Topeka A Kansas House committee’s leader is moving forward with a proposal that would give the state more oversight of local public schools’ construction programs, though he acknowledged Tuesday that he’s not sure it would create the certainty in budgeting that many Republicans desire.
Chairman Ron Highland outlined a new version of the proposal during an Education Committee meeting. The Wamego Republican said the panel would vote on his proposal Friday.
Under his proposal, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Building Construction would review local school districts’ projects before their voters decide in an election whether to authorize bonds to finance them. The committee’s approval would be required if the state would help the local district pay off the debt.
The state provides such help so that poorer districts don’t fall too far behind their wealthier counterparts in being able to construct new buildings or repair existing ones. But annual the cost of such aid has grown from $96 million for the 2010-11 school year to an estimated $181 million for the current one.
“We do have to have certainty,” Highland told his committee.
Highland’s proposal would rewrite a bill before the committee that would have created a new, six-member state board to review school construction projects. Highland said some legislators wondered why the state needed to create a new board when there’s a legislative committee that already reviews state construction projects.
Also, Highland’s proposal would add more detailed language designed to ensure that state aid is concentrated on projects involving classroom space.
Rep. Amanda Grosserode, a conservative Lenexa Republican, said Highland’s plan may slow the growth in the state’s aid in helping districts pay for construction projects. But she said unless there’s a spending cap, the state may not have budget certainty.
Highland said he’s working on additional language for the committee to consider Friday.
Meanwhile, some educators and legislators, particularly Democrats, view the bill as an attack on local control of schools.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat, said the measure would make the state’s distribution of aid to its 286 school districts less fair.
“It ties the hands of the poorer districts, because it’s harder for them to build facilities,” Trimmer said.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last month that poor school districts have been unfairly shorted by other parts of the state’s system for distributing more than $4 billion a year in aid. The court ordered lawmakers to fix the problems before July 1 or face having schools shut down.