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Archive for Thursday, March 30, 2006

School finance debate under way in Senate

March 30, 2006

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The Senate today started work on school finance legislation under pressure from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase funding and under pressure from the clock as the end of the first part of the session neared.

Senators immediately tangled over what the state could afford, and what would be fair for the majority of Kansas' 450,000 public school students.

A measure adopted by the House would increase funding $633 million over three years. Another promoted by Senate leaders would cost $660 million over the same period.

Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, offered a four-year $495 million plan, but that was rejected.

Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, tried to get approved a $177 million increase for one year, and that was rejected, too.

Both Barnett and Brownlee said their proposals were responsible plans that would not require a tax increase or passage of expanded gambling.

But other senators said more funding was needed, and a multi-year approach in order to satisfy the state Supreme Court.

Last year, the court ruled the $3 billion school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially those in low-income districts.

As the Senate tackled the different funding plans, a major amendment might have jeopardized Senate passage of the House plan.

In the House plan was a provision that removed restrictions starting in 2010 of raising local property taxes to enhance school funding.

But the Senate removed that provision, with some members saying that the House proposal would widen the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday or Saturday and then return for a wrap-up session in late April.

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