Archive for Saturday, March 18, 2006

House committee endorses one-year school finance plan

March 18, 2006


— A school finance bill emerged from a House committee Friday, billed as a one-year, $175 million plan, though legislators would end up being more generous than that.

Spurred by concerns that a plan from House leaders to phase in a $500 million increase over three years eventually would create a big budget shortfall, the Select Committee on School Finance abandoned any firm commitments to new spending after the first year.

But its proposal leaves in place provisions in Kansas' current school finance law that still guarantee extra money in future years, such as a requirement that aid to the state's 300 school districts be adjusted annually to account for inflation.

Rep. Mike O'Neal said legislators created mechanisms in the law to adjust for growing education needs, including establishing a commission that is reviewing the demands for students at risk of failing in school. He said the court recognized those changes in a June 2005 ruling, saying that those provisions may be enough to ensure that students receive what the court called "a constitutionally adequate education."

"The court never said that it had to be a multiyear plan," said O'Neal, R-Hutchinson.

The committee believes existing provisions of state law would boost state spending by up to $138 million for the 2007-08 school year and an additional $140 million for 2008-09 school year. Thus, even without amending state law to make concrete promises, the three-year total could be more than $450 million.

But committee members talked up their proposal as a one-year plan in hopes of lessening its political baggage.

However, Rep. Marti Crow said the one-year plan doomed legislators to spending part of their summer in the Statehouse in special session - as they did in 2005 - answering to the court. She called Friday's action "silly antics."

"Frankly, I haven't made any plans for July. This guarantees it," said Crow, D-Leavenworth. "It's repeating what we did before, and it's wrong."

Justices ordered legislators to conduct a cost study, which the Legislative Division of Post Audit presented on Jan. 9, saying the state needed to increase spending by as much as $470 million.

Legislative leaders originally forged three-year plans exceeding the cost study's estimate but in recent weeks backed away from them based on budget projections showing the state running in red ink within three years.

Some legislators have doubted the wisdom of crafting a three-year plan to satisfy the Supreme Court. Their skepticism grew Thursday, when the Senate rejected a bill to expand gambling.

Asked whether the vote against gambling killed chances for passing a three-year plan, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said, "Nothing's ever dead around here."

And Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said legislators could "bet on the come," passing a multiyear plan even though the third year isn't funded.

"A three-year plan is no guarantee that years two and three of that plan will be implemented. A three-year plan is always subject to amendment in subsequent years," Vratil said. "A three-year plan is really no more than a one-year plan plus an indication of where the Legislature is headed in years two and three."

Morris and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf continued to warn that a one-year plan is likely to be rejected by the court, unless legislators provide between $500 million and $600 million.

Proposal details

Details of the one-year, $175 million school finance package endorsed Friday by the House Select Committee on School Finance:

¢ Increases base state aid per pupil by $50 to $4,307. ¢ Increases funding for at-risk programs, based on the number of students on free lunches, by $46.5 million. ¢ Creates a $2 million pilot program in districts with high concentrations of at-risk students, based on free lunches, for special academies to boost student achievement. ¢ Distributes $10 million to districts with high concentrations of at-risk students, based how many are eligible on free lunches. ¢ Distributes $10 million to districts with high concentrations of at-risk students not eligible for free lunches. ¢ Reimburses school districts for 92 percent of the costs of providing special education at a cost of $30.3 million (already in state budget). ¢ Increases aid to school districts that raise additional property taxes for operations, a cost of $32.8 million (already in state budget). ¢ Lowers enrollment threshold to trigger additional funds for large districts, an increase of $14.2 million.

State law requires automatic increases in the 2007-08 school year to keep special education funding at 92 percent of costs and to adjust overall spending for the Consumer Price Index. Estimates are that increases will be about $140 million in each of the following two years.


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