Education leaders excited by Parkinson’s education funding proposals but not optimistic they will succeed

Flanked by Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, right, and House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, left, Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson gives his State of the State address this year at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

Gov. Mark Parkinson’s proposal to funnel more money into state coffers by increasing sales and cigarette taxes drew applause from education officials in Lawrence.

But some aren’t sure it’s going to work.

Monday night, the governor told legislators in his annual State of the State address that Kansas could not afford to cut more funding from education. And he proposed the taxes as a way to close a $400 million budget gap and to avoid further cuts.

“I was encouraged that he is talking about some revenue enhancement ideas because I think that cutting our way out of this budget crisis … is going to be very, very difficult,” said Rick Doll, Lawrence school superintendent.

But Doll said he was surprised that Parkinson chose raising the sales tax rate for three years, over other revenue builders, such as hikes in property or income tax.

“Sales tax tends to be a more regressive tax, has more of a negative impact on some of our families in poverty,” Doll said.

Lawrence school board president Scott Morgan said while he appreciates Parkinson’s attempt to put money back into education, he’s not sure it will actually happen.

“I have no evidence that these people are going to be able to right the ship when it largely has crashed because of them,” Morgan said of the Legislature. “A graduated income tax is probably the fairest way, but a property tax is more fair than a sales tax.”

Under the governor’s plan, public schools would get $32 million in additional state funds to increase base state aid per pupil. Currently, that figure is $4,012. With the new monies, it would go up to $4,062 per student.

“This budget allows us to reinstate some funding of schools and universities as we begin their road to recovery,” Parkinson said.

Higher education was cut more than $100 million and would get $10 million back.

“I am very pleased with the governor’s support of education and his recognition that it’s important to take the long view” on state funding issues, said Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

In Doll’s 20-year tenure as a superintendent, the property tax mill levy, which supports public education, has gradually decreased from 35 to 20 mills.

“Instead of choosing to put some money into savings for a rainy day, they chose to give a break to property tax,” Doll said.

Morgan says the problem lies in Topeka and if Lawrence residents aren’t happy with changes to education, that’s where they need to send complaints.

“It’s in Topeka where the problem will ultimately be solved,” Morgan said. “We deal with the dregs that come flowing down the river from there, both at our sewage treatment and in our education funding. We’re just the processors.”