Topeka To help pay for their school finance plan, House Republican leaders may be considering money that Kansas University has wanted for years to help build a new health education building.
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The public school plan heard Monday in the House Appropriations Committee featured a new twist — funding proposals for higher education.
Among the higher ed proposals was transferring $24 million from a FICA dispute into the state general fund.
"That may be used for one of the pay-fors," said Appropriations Committee Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, referring to the public school funding plan.
State Rep. Jerry Henry, of Atchison, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said of the House GOP school finance proposal, "They're gathering up money where they can."
The FICA issue has been around for years stemming from a dispute with the IRS over withholding from the paychecks of former medical residents.
In 2013, nearly 1,200 former KU Medical Center students received $17.5 million in FICA refunds. That left approximately $24 million representing the employer's share of FICA withholding.
Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback had proposed using some of that money, $10 million, to help KU Medical Center build a new $75 million health education building — one of KU's top priorities. But the Republican-led Legislature rejected the idea.
On Monday, KU spokesman Tim Caboni said the school was closely watching budget and education proposals, adding, "there is a long way to go in the process."
The public school finance plan also includes some bonding authority for projects at KU, Kansas State University and other regents schools.
"We felt like a bill addressing education in its entirety was the best approach," Suellentrop said.
Henry said the higher education portion of the bill was put in there to attract votes of legislators with post-secondary schools in their districts.
"As you can see, they're putting policy into an appropriations bill and now they're putting in higher education into a K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) education bill," Henry said.
"So, it's kind of, they've got a basket with all different colored eggs and they're hoping there will be enough there to get the votes they need," he said.
More than three weeks after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that legislators had unconstitutionally deprived poor districts of funds, legislators are working to come up with a plan this week before the Legislature takes a three-week break.
The court gave lawmakers until July 1 to address disparities in what's called “equalization aid” — money the state spends to subsidize capital outlay and local option budgets for less wealthy districts. Those disparities were caused by budget cuts enacted in the wake of the Great Recession beginning in 2009.
Restoring full funding of the so-called “equalization aid” would cost an estimated $129 million, a little more than half of the state's projected ending balance for next year.