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Archive for Saturday, February 11, 2006

School finance plan keeps districts waiting

Legislators, governor work to find bipartisan solution for funding

February 11, 2006

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— One month into the 2006 legislative session, state leaders Friday said they were getting close to coming up with a school finance plan.

For Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman, it can't come too soon.

Without any idea from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Legislature how much of an increase schools will receive and how the increase will be spent, Weseman said it was almost impossible to plan for next year.

"It's just like being blindfolded and having to find your way through a maze," Weseman said. "We're at a standstill right now."

The Kansas Supreme Court has declared the school finance system unconstitutional because it underfunds all students, especially minorities. Last year, the court accepted a $290 million increase for schools as a down payment pending results of an education cost study, which has been finished and says schools need an additional $400 million to $470 million.

On Friday, Sebelius said leaders had been working behind the scenes to form a bipartisan solution.

She said a consensus had been reached on producing a three-year plan, but the dollar amount has not been determined, though she and others have said it probably won't be the full $400 million called for by the study in one year.

"The fact that there isn't a specific plan yet is a little troublesome to some, but I think there's real progress being made," Sebelius said.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said he thought the House Education Committee would recommend approval of a bill by Feb. 22.

"That's our target date," Mays said. "The dollar amount has not been fully nailed down yet."

Weseman said school districts needed to know how much money was coming in for the next school year so school boards could plan their budgets.

Under various scenarios in the cost study, the Lawrence district could receive an increase of approximately $5 million.

Consideration of teacher salaries, various programs and whether the district implements full-day kindergarten depends on what the Legislature does and when, Weseman said.

The major conflict brought to light by the cost study is between rural and urban school districts.

Many rural districts are receiving more than enough funding, while urban districts with high concentrations of students from low-income families are not receiving enough, the study showed.

Weseman said the Lawrence district was "somewhere in the middle."

"We don't receive a windfall, but definitely it's better than we have ever seen before," he said.

He said the cost study's call for more funding for large, urban districts like those in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, Kan., was fair.

"Certainly those large districts with high incidences of needy kids, I think it's proportional. I don't see any problem with how it is weighted and distributed," he said.

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