Two Senate leaders said Monday they would like their chamber to debate education funding this week, although they disagreed on a House plan to phase in a $633 million increase in aid to public schools over three years.
"I don't see any benefit in waiting," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, who sets his chamber's debate calendar. "The choices aren't going to get any clearer or any easier."
The choices include whether to expand gambling to pay for the additional spending on schools. Both the House plan and a rival Senate plan have no provisions for raising new revenue, and projections show legislators would have to close a budget shortfall starting next year.
Schmidt said his decision on when to debate school finance - and whether senators take up the House plan or something different - will depend on how his colleagues feel. The GOP controls 30 of 40 Senate seats but is divided on education funding.
But Schmidt's timetable has the backing of Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "I think it would be beneficial for the process for us to try to do something before the end of the week on school finance," he said.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
The House approved its plan Friday. A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans drafted the measure, hoping to satisfy Kansas Supreme Court mandates last year that legislators increase aid to public schools and distribute the dollars more fairly.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, praised the House plan, calling it "a terrific step forward."
"I would happily sign that bill if it came to my desk," she said. "I'm really pleased with the House efforts, and I'm hoping that the Senate looks at that as the framework from which to start their discussion."
Senate leaders drafted a three-year, $660 million plan, but $180 million of the total aid would come from property taxes that local school districts would be required to levy, which all but four districts already do.
Hensley, like Sebelius, favors expanded gambling to pay for education. Earlier this month, the Senate rejected a measure allowing two state-owned casinos and slot machines at three dog and horse tracks, but Hensley believes it should try again.
"Everybody knows that we've got some real problems in the out years, and we're going to have to have revenue," Hensley said. "Gaming becomes, really, the only thing that's on the table that is a reasonable alternative. Right now, people just don't see that."
The House plan funds all-day kindergarten statewide after three years and gives local school boards unlimited authority to increase property taxes after two years if state aid is sufficient to provide a suitable education for every child.
"I don't know as we'll rubber-stamp the House plan," Hensley said. "But I certainly think it's a great place to start."
Sebelius said she likes the all-day kindergarten provision because, "It's one of the best ways to close that learning gap at an early age."
Schmidt noted that the property tax provisions of the House plan were designed to attract Johnson County legislators, whose districts might not fare so well under provisions designed to provide additional dollars to programs that help at-risk children. But, he said, lawmakers from other parts of the state have opposed similar proposals.
Schmidt said of the House plan: "It's extremely large, with some provisions aimed at specific geographical areas that are objectionable to many legislators, and, of course, it's not paid for. Other than that, it's a work of art."