Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Proposal draws mixed response from educators

January 15, 2004

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's proposal to bolster education funding by $304 million over the next three years received mixed reviews from local school district administrators this week.

During the State of the State address Monday evening before members of the Kansas Legislature, Sebelius proposed a series of property, sales and income tax increases to fund increased education spending.

Whether the proposal will receive support remains to be seen.

Robert Van Maren, superintendent of the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School District, has his doubts whether a Republican controlled Legislature will support the tax increases Sebelius presented Monday night.

Republicans have frowned on raising taxes this year and did so Monday in the GOP response.

"Even though she has made a proposal, I'm not really excited about the energy, or lack of energy, that is behind it," Van Maren said.

Jill Hackett, superintendent of the Basehor-Linwood School District, is more optimistic, calling the announcement "a step in the right direction."

"There are no absolutes," Hackett said. "But, I feel confident that the Legislative session is going to be led with an education-first philosophy.

"I would hope all of the Legislature would give trong consideration to what the governor is saying," she added.

Van Maren criticized the proposal, saying it doesn't meet funding standards set forth in recent years.

The governor's proposal doesn't provide the increase in education funding recommended by Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock, or those of a Legislature-commissioned study, which concluded that base per-pupil aid is not adequately funded.

Also, the plan does not reach the lofty education standards the governor herself campaigned on, Van Maren said.

"It's kind of like if a teacher were to give out an assignment, and you only turned in one fifth of the work you were supposed to do," he said. "You wouldn't get a very good grade."

In December, Bullock issued a preliminary finding that the state's current model for funding Kansas schools violates the rights of individuals under the Kansas and U.S. constitutions. He pointed to a $1 billion funding shortfall.

The Legislature commissioned a study in 2002, which found that Kansas students should be funded at $4,650 per student, approximately $787 more than now.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the governor's plan has received tempered reviews from KASB, but nonetheless bucks the trend of cutbacks initiated in recent years.

"I think our position is we hope it's realized," Tallman said. "The need is greater than that. If we don't do something, the quality of education in Kansas will continue to slip.

"I think it addressed some issues," he added. "I don't think it addressed all of them, but it's certainly better than doing nothing."

Tallman said KASB, as will school district administrators and educators from around the state, will become quite familiar with Topeka during the Legislative sessions, lobbying them to push through any plan that strengthens the public school system.

"We think there does remain support to keep our school system strong on both sides of the aisle," he said. "It's up to us to convince the public and up to the public to convince their legislators."

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