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Archive for Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Majority leader recommends using surplus for school plan

November 28, 2006

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— Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt wants legislators to bank a big chunk of the anticipated growth in state revenues to pay for the final year of a $466 million school finance package.

Schmidt said Monday he would introduce a bill for the 2007 session to set aside $122.7 million from this year's budget surplus to pay for the third year of the school plan. Setting the money aside would leave the state with $457 million in reserve funds on June 30, more than constitutionally mandated.

Schmidt said legislators already were talking about how to spend the new revenue, ranging from expanding programs to trimming taxes for individuals or businesses. He sought to temper that enthusiasm.

"Before we splurge on a new Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for the kids' Christmas, we need to set aside enough to pay for their education," said Schmidt, R-Independence.

A group of state budget officials and economists have projected Kansas will continue to see healthy tax collections during the next 18 months.

On Nov. 3, the group raised its revenue estimates for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, by $299 million, for more than $5.6 billion.

In addition, they project the state will collect an additional $108 million in the next fiscal year.

Legislators have increased K-12 spending by more than $800 million since 2005, prompted by Kansas Supreme Court rulings that said the state was shortchanging education funding, in particular for poor and minority students.

The lawsuit, filed in 1999, was dismissed this summer by the justices after legislators came up with additional money to meet the court order.

"It's all a matter of priorities," Schmidt said. "Educating our kids is our state's most important long-term investment, and we made a historic promise last year that we need to keep."

Nicole Corcoran, spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said the governor was committed to keeping the school finance promises and was encouraged by talk of various options.

Schmidt's proposal is the latest in ongoing Statehouse school finance discussions as legislators look to fine-tune the current spending formula.

A recent audit raised concerns among some legislators regarding the criteria used for determining how much extra money schools receive for students at risk of academic failure.

Currently, participation in the free-lunch program triggers additional state dollars for schools for programs aimed at improving achievement, such as tutoring.

Auditors concluded districts are receiving millions of dollars more than they should have because thousands of students were included in the count of at-risk students when they shouldn't have been.

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