Archive for Thursday, February 24, 2005

Attorney says plans won’t satisfy court

Lawyer for mid-sized schools says Legislature is playing politics with funding ideas

February 24, 2005

— Republican school finance plans are nowhere near what the Kansas Supreme Court wants, according to the plaintiff's attorney for school districts that successfully sued the state.

"I don't see any of the legislative proposals satisfying the court's requirements," Alan Rupe, of Wichita, said last week. "They haven't focused on the costs of education, which is what the court told them to do. Instead, they have focused on politics, which the court told them not to do."

On Jan. 3, the Kansas Supreme Court declared that the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty "to make suitable provision" to fund public schools.

The court said more money was needed, and the funds needed to be more equitably distributed. The court gave the Legislature until April 12 to fix the $2.7 billion finance system.

Since then, Republicans, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, have come up with proposals, ranging from a one-year $65 million increase to a three-year $445 million increase.

The $445 million plan gained endorsement on Wednesday from the Senate Education Committee. As such, it is the first school-finance bill to come out of committee this session with a favorable recommendation.

The plan would increase funding for the 2005-06 school year by $165.6 million. Base aid to all 301 school districts would rise, along with spending on bilingual and special education and programs targeting poor children. The total increase would be the largest since the current school finance formula was adopted in 1992.

None of the school funding plans' sponsors has offered a permanent funding plan; instead, they have said the proposals could initially be financed through growth in tax revenues produced by the growing economy and dipping into state cash reserves.

House and Senate leaders on Friday said the Legislature could produce a $100 million to $125 million increase in school funding for the next year without a tax increase.

But Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said lawmakers eventually must increase taxes for schools or approve expansions of casino gambling that would dedicate revenues to schools.

Rupe, the attorney for midsized school districts that sued the state, said the funding increases being discussed are not close to what is needed.

A 2001 study commissioned by the Legislature indicated $1 billion more was needed. That study was cited by the Kansas Supreme Court. A recent survey done by the State Department of Education came up with a similar increase.

"They cannot reach the number without raising taxes," Rupe said.

In addition, Rupe said, the proposals offered so far don't go far enough in redistributing funds for districts that have a disproportionate share of low-income, bilingual and special education students.


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