School finance plan expected today

? After weeks of discussions, suggestions and amendments, a House panel is expected to put the final touches on its school finance plan, and the committee leader says the proposal will include funding for one year and “goals” for years two and three.

The House Select Committee on School Finance met for two hours Wednesday to work on details in the proposal, including how school districts could spend their dollars.

The debate largely focused on better reporting so that legislators and the public will have a greater sense of what districts are doing with more than $3 billion spent by the state annually.

Chairwoman Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, promised the committee that the bill would be finished today and sent to the full House for debate, probably next week.

“We may go to the floor a little late (today)” Decker said.

House leaders drafted a plan to phase in a $500 million increase over three years, but some lawmakers were concerned it would cause budget problems in the future.

The committee is still using that plan as a framework, but Decker described the first year as guaranteed state spending and the subsequent years as mere goals for legislators to attain.

“It is our intent. But next year, we could have a whole new group of people who may not agree with what we do,” she said.

Ultimately, the Kansas Supreme Court must agree with the Legislature’s progress. Last summer, the court signed off on $290 million in new spending in response to orders the justices issued in a lawsuit filed in 1999 by parents and administrators in the Dodge City and Salina school districts.

Justices said the money was acceptable for “interim purposes” and that they would likely order more spending to bring school funding up to constitutional requirements.

On Monday, the Senate Education Committee endorsed a three-year, $660 million package. Debate on the bill is expected next week.

Under the plan, the state would provide $480 million in new dollars, while school districts would be required to set aside $180 million in property tax revenues over three years.

The state could cover its share of the plan’s first year – also $180 million – from existing resources. However, projections have shown that a budget shortfall would emerge the next year.

Senators will consider a gambling bill today that would raise about $150 million, of which 75 percent would be dedicated to education.

The House has no proposals for raising additional revenue to finance school spending increases.

Rep. Mike O’Neal proposed several policy measures attached to the Senate bill Wednesday in effort to receive credit from the court for money the state is spending on schools, including nearly $220 million in supplemental aid to districts with low property values per pupil.

His concern is that districts are suing the state, claiming they lack the resources to pay for all mandated programs and improve student achievement, but are still spending money on discretionary items.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” said O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.