Archive for Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lansing, Shawnee lawmakers introduce school funding plan

February 17, 2005

— Kansas public schools would receive a $208.4 million increase in the next two years, and a host of programs aimed at improving education under a proposal unveiled Friday.

The "Investment in Excellence" plan contains no statewide tax increase, but would let local areas vote on increasing taxes for schools.

"We're presenting a plan we hope gets kids ready for the 21st century economy," said Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, who with Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, put the proposal together.

The plan relies on increased tax collections through economic growth, using money from the state's cash reserves and reallocating funds from the tobacco lawsuit settlement.

"I think our Kansas economy is well on its way to recovery," Wilk said, adding that a statewide tax rate increase could hamper that recovery.

Both Jordan and Wilk said they believed their proposal would resolve a Kansas Supreme Court order on school finance.

The court has declared the current $2.7 billion school finance system unconstitutional and given the Legislature until April 12 to fix the problem.

The Jordan-Wilk plan would:

¢ Increase school funding by $111.4 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $97 million the next fiscal year;

¢ Allow counties to increase taxes, after voter approval, to enhance school programs;

¢ Increase funding for at-risk, bilingual, special education and pre-school students;

¢ Fund a teacher mentor program;

¢ Provide college scholarships to students who will teach math and science in Kansas;

¢ Offer tax credits to businesses that partner with schools to provide degreed science and math teachers;

¢ Allow early admission to college for students who show a high level of ability in math and science.

Last year, Jordan and Wilk successfully pushed through a comprehensive bioscience research initiative.

This year, they said school funding from pre-school through 12th grade needs a comprehensive plan.

The proposal is the second one out of the chute this session. Earlier last week, Senate Republican leaders proposed a three-year $415 million plan.

But those Republican school finance plans would break the budget and probably hurt the state's credit rating because they lack new sources of revenue, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' top budget official said Wednesday.

"There has to be a revenue plan," Budget Director Duane Goossen said in a briefing.

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