Archive for Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Senate Republicans roll out education plan

Proposal is first for school funding since court’s ruling

February 9, 2005

— Senate Republican leaders Tuesday rolled out a plan to increase school funding by $415 million over three years, but they didn't identify where most of the money would come from.

The proposal by Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, represented the first legislative response to the Kansas Supreme Court's opinion that the $2.7 billion school finance system was unconstitutional.

Schodorf, a Wichita Republican, said her plan was a "starting point" that would face extensive debate. "There will be plenty of changes, I'm sure," she said.

In its Jan. 3 opinion, the court gave lawmakers until April 12 to increase school funding in an equitable manner.

Schodorf's $415 million plan would produce far less than the $1 billion increase recommended by a school finance consultant's study that was mentioned by the court.

The proposal would reshape funding formulas to add extra dollars for programs for students with limited English speaking skills, students from low-income families and students with special needs.

Local property taxes also could be increased to enhance local school spending. The plan would also establish a commission to recommend changes to the Legislature to improve schools, and enlist the aid of the legislative auditing arm to find ways for school districts to become more efficient.

Under the proposal, the Lawrence school district would receive a $2.5 million funding increase in the first year, while Baldwin's state funding would increase by $306,897 and Eudora's by $161,334.

Schodorf said the first year of funding would come out of growing tax revenues and drawing down the state's ending balance by $80 million. In the second and third years, a tax increase might be needed, but she made no recommendation.

The lack of a funding commitment troubled Democrats.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said the plan's reliance on increasing local school funding would result in local property tax increases in some areas. Such a policy, he said, was contrary to the court's opinion that local property tax enhancements had made school funding unequal by hurting property-poor districts.

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said the lack of funding streams for the plan was troubling. "We're just putting off for another year and just making the problem harder," she said.

School advocates said they were glad to see a proposal but said they doubted the court would approve a promise of future funding.

"This is putting something before the court and saying you hope it will happen. I think the court is more interested in security and making sure it happens," said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist with the Kansas National Education Assn.

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