State Board of Education recommends $471 million increase to schools to ‘fund the law’

? The State Board of Education on Tuesday recommended that the Kansas Legislature “fund the law,” which would require a $471 million increase in school funding.

The school funding law is based on what the Legislature has put into state statutes before significant budget cuts that were made during the recent record drop in state revenue.

The board voted 7-1-1 for the proposed increase, which would be approximately 15 percent more than the current state appropriation to public schools. The recommendation for the 2011-2012 school year will be forwarded to the governor and Legislature for consideration in the next legislative session, which starts in January.

Board member Walt Chappell, a Democrat from Wichita, was the lone dissenting vote, saying that the board needed more time to determine whether there were ways it could make a smaller recommendation.

“I’m appalled that this is the way we are going to move,” Chappell said. He said a similar increase recommended by the board last year was “dead on arrival” and the Legislature would quickly reject this recommendation too.

Board member John Bacon, a Republican from Olathe, said he was concerned such a funding increase would require a tax increase if the economy didn’t rebound.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, which took effect July 1. Supporters said it was needed to avoid damaging cuts to schools, social services and public safety.

But other board members said the tax issue shouldn’t be part of their deliberations. They said they needed to represent education interests to the Legislature.

“This is an advocacy budget, and we need to stand firm for our students and schools to fund what the law has required,” said board member Jana Shaver, a Republican from Independence.

Board member Kathy Martin, a Republican from Clay Center, abstained from voting, saying she thought there was merit to arguments on both sides of the issue. But she added, “I don’t think we can just say give us more, give us more when everyone else is getting cut.”

Board member Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal who made the motion to “fund the law,” said there are many variables that will affect school funding next year. A new governor will be sworn into office and the makeup of the Legislature will change too.

“We need to fund the law. Beyond that I don’t know what decision I could make,” she said.

Another factor, board members said, is the coming school finance lawsuit.

A coalition of school districts last month notified the state that it would file new litigation, alleging that recent education cuts are unconstitutional.

The coalition won significant funding increases in 2005 and 2006 when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance formula failed to adequately and equitably fund schools.

But schools have been cut more than $300 million over the past 16 months, the coalition said.