Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Funding plan headed to court

Sebelius says she won’t veto proposal

March 31, 2005


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday said she would hold her nose and give the Kansas Supreme Court a Republican school finance plan that could increase funding by $125.2 million and signal a rush for local property tax increases.

"Despite some patchwork progress that provides more money for schools, I still see no long-term plan, especially in funding public education for years to come," Sebelius said after the House approved the plan 76-48. "In the end, this bill fails Kansas children, fails their families, and fails our schools."

But Sebelius said she would deliver the plan to the court without her signature in hopes the court will act and "the process can move forward as quickly as possible."

Democrats opposed

Sebelius' criticism echoed that of other Democrats. The Republican-driven bill attracted only one of 52 Democrats in the 165-member Legislature.

On Jan. 3, the state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers failed their constitutional responsibility to provide schools with adequate and equitable funding.

The court gave lawmakers until April 12 to fix the school finance plan and Wednesday's vote finalized the Legislature's response.

Alan Rupe, the Wichita attorney representing schools that sued the state over funding, said the Legislature's proposal was "insulting more than anything."

He noted a consultant study that showed Kansas schools needed a $1 billion increase to provide an adequate education.

"I'm afraid we are going to fail another generation of kids," Rupe said. He said he would ask the state Supreme Court to appoint a special master to oversee a new finance plan.

Republican support

But supporters of the plan said it addressed concerns raised by the court by increasing funds for programs directed to at-risk, bilingual and special education students. They also touted the proposal because it doesn't increase state taxes.

"Most of the real dollars in this goes into the poorer districts," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.

"I do believe it answers many of the court decisions," said Rep. Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, who was the chief sponsor of the bill.

The 76-48 vote today by which the House approved a plan to increase spending on public schools by up to $127 million annually, sending the measure to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Of the 83 Republicans, 75 voted "yes" and eight voted "no." Lawrence's House delegation, Democrats Barbara Ballard and Paul Davis and Republican Tom Sloan, all voted against the bill.

But opponents said the funding increase was inadequate and unsustainable without a statewide tax increase.

And they said the lack of a statewide tax increase was a ruse for the fact the bill would allow local districts to increase property taxes up to nearly $500 million statewide.

"It has got the largest property tax increase in the state's history," said Rep. Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville.

The Lawrence school district could see a $2.2 million funding increase under the proposal, or about $229 per student.

The district would be allowed to raise its local property taxes to 30 percent of its general fund budget. The cap is currently 25 percent. In addition, Lawrence is one of 17 districts statewide that would be allowed to raise local taxes again to raise funds for teacher pay.

Mays said local districts should be allowed to make the decision whether to increase taxes. But opponents said increasing the local component of funding would further widen the gap between wealthy and poor districts.

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