Equity issues cited in Gov. Sam Brownback’s school finance plan

? Gov. Sam Brownback’s school finance plan will place more of the job of funding education on local taxpayers and widen the disparity between rich and poor school districts, several State Board of Education members said Tuesday.

“I think you’re going to have a really big equity problem,” said Board member Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal.

Her comment was made during a discussion with Brownback’s policy director Landon Fulmer, who spoke with the Education Board for nearly an hour and a half.

Cauble was referring to a portion of Brownback’s plan that would allow local districts to raise as much for schools from local property taxes as voters in that district would allow. Currently there is a cap on the amount of local property taxes for schools.

Brownback’s plan would also allow local districts to approve sales taxes for schools.

Board member Jana Shaver, R-Independence, whose district covers some of the poorest regions of the state, said relying on increased local taxes “for our area is an unequalizing concept.”

And several board members questioned Brownback’s proposal to set a floor of state funding support for schools, which equals about half the state budget, when Brownback’s supporters are pushing for elimination of the state income tax.

Fulmer said he didn’t want to get into Brownback’s as-yet-to-be released tax plan, but hinted that it would not have a drastic impact on state revenues. “The goal would not be to have a plan in place that just slashes future spending,” Fulmer said.

Brownback has said the school finance formula needs an overhaul because it is under constant litigation.

“I am tired, and I don’t think it is effective, that the system and the money has been decided by the courts for the last 20 years instead of the Legislature,” Brownback said in brief comments to reporters earlier Tuesday.

But much of the legal wrangling has been over equity issues, ensuring that children in low wealth districts have similar educational opportunities as those in high wealth districts.

Fulmer said Brownback’s plan would provide equalization through a proposal to reduce the state mandated mill levy and then take the money that would be collected and place it into a special revenue fund for distribution to equalize for discrepancy in property tax values. “We equalize on the front end,” he said.

But Education Board members said the other aspects of Brownback’s plan — removing the cap on school property taxes and allowing local sales taxes — had the effect of disequalizing funding. On the sales tax proposal, the funding would be distributed to the school districts operating in the participating counties.

Other components of Brownback’s plan include:

• A standard per-student payment made to each school district in a lump sum. The per student amount would be determined by the Legislature.

• Block grants would be made available to schools with the Legislature determining the amount of each block grant. Block grants would be designed to help rural districts, at-risk students, increase technical and career education, provide teacher incentives and education innovations.

Fulmer said Brownback’s proposal is nearly complete. “It’s concrete that is not totally wet but is not totally solid yet,” he said.

Board Chairman David Dennis, R-Wichita, said the impact of the plan will be easier to discern once runs are made to show how it would affect each school district. He said he hoped that would be done within the month.

“It all boils down to dollars,” Dennis said.

Schools have been hit hard during the recession. Base state aid per pupil has been cut from $4,400 per student in 2008-09 to $3,780 per student in the current school year.