Archive for Thursday, May 4, 2006

Legislators begin negotiating school funding plan

May 4, 2006

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— Legislators started negotiations Wednesday over school finance issues after the House rejected a three-year, $532.7 million plan assembled a day earlier.

Finding a compromise plan that will satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to increase spending on schools has fallen to three senators and three House members.

Negotiators reviewed the contents of a plan the Senate passed last week and one the House plan passed in March. No action was taken, and another round of talks was set for this morning. Negotiators expected it to take a while to merge the Senate's spending with numerous House policies.

"We have a Chevy and a Cadillac. I'm not going to say which is which," said Rep. Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, lead House negotiator.

The House plan, defeated 69-55, had the backing of Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, and other GOP leaders. He said there will be no more attempts to draft a new House plan to take into negotiations with senators.

"We will get something eventually," Mays said.

The Senate approved a plan last week to phase in a $541 million increase in spending on public schools over three years. In March, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans forced a three-year, $633 million plan through the House.

Mays and Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said negotiations could go quickly, but are likely to get hung up over policy provisions sought by House members to make schools more accountable and to fulfill some members' desire to give local districts greater authority to increase property taxes.

Mays and other GOP leaders could have initiated talks last week with the Senate over the final version of school finance legislation. But they wanted to have another debate, hoping to narrow the scope of the discussions - and ultimately the size of any final plan.

Both chambers would rely on existing state revenues to fund their proposals, though budget projections show the third year could cause the state to exhaust all available revenues and be faced with a deficit, something prohibited by state law. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn't spending enough on its public schools or distributing the dollars fairly.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, her chamber's lead negotiator, said delaying talks for several days was "wasting time, doing nothing."

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