Archive for Thursday, January 12, 2006

Lawmakers pore over school study

January 12, 2006

The start of a new legislative session coinciding with the release of a report stating that the state's current school funding is inadequate has area legislators trying to get their bearings.

The report, put out Monday by the Kansas Legislative Post Audit Committee, says the minimum additional amount of funding needed for public schools 2006-07 is $316.2 million, if the legislators choose to fund schools based on a class size of 25 students. To fund schools based upon the standards students are expected to attain, an additional $399.3 million would be necessary.

That's on top of the $3 billion the state already puts into funding Kansas' public schools.

The Kansas Legislature called for the study last year after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutionally inadequate and ordered lawmakers to increase school funding by $285 million. After the regular session and a special session last July, the Legislature appropriated $289.5 million more to schools.

The study by the Legislative Division of Post Audit used two models: the input-based, based on class sizes, and the outcomes-based, based on students meeting the state's standards of achievement.

State Sen. Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City, whose district includes Lansing, admitted he was "taken aback with the dollar amount" set forth in the report.

"When you're talking $400 million, we've got our work cut out for us," he said.

State Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said "everyone was real surprised by the low-ball number," which is the cost for the input model. Her theory was that other legislators expected to find that what they already had put into education spending would be enough, at least on the low end.

But personally, she didn't flinch.

"I don't know that it was anything I hadn't expected," she said.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said Tuesday that he had only perused the executive summary of the report.

"It's a lot to digest," he said.

However, his initial feeling was fairly positive, he said.

"All of my districts fare pretty well," he said. "If you have one of the bigger districts, over 1,700, you tend to like it."

It's the small, rural districts that will be apprehensive, Wilk said - the report calls for spending more money on inner-city at-risk students and lowering the amount that would go to the rural districts.

Lansing school board president Brian Bode said Monday night that after only a brief scan of the document, it seemed like good news.

"It confirms the fact that the current form may not be the right form," he said. "It does tell the Legislature that something's amiss."

Bode said he thought it would be necessary for legislators to choose the output-based model of funding.

"You can't buy it," he said of a quality education, but legislators will have to "give us enough to attain the standards that they are setting."

Ruff agreed with Bode, saying she favored the output-based approach.

"I think I'll go with the one that's closest to reality. The output model is what it's all about," she said. Legislators cannot ignore federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind when crafting a funding plan, she said.

Gilstrap said he was leaning toward the input-based model because it would cost less. Wilk said he was still trying to understand both models and the end result was "probably going to be something in between."

Gilstrap said he had not yet caucused with other legislators about possible means of appropriating the funding, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' State of the State address Monday night "didn't give us any guidance on how to fund the education problem."

But Gilstrap had a few preliminary ideas of where the funding might or might not be found. With this being an election year, he said raising taxes was probably out, but expanded gaming was one possible option. Last year, the Senate came within two votes of approving expanded gambling. That margin was small enough that "twisting some arms" could pass the measure this session, he said.

Gilstrap also suggested making a long-term plan for the education budget similar to the long-term transportation budget. He said other options, such as cutting into other programs, borrowing money from transportation or to "open the prison doors and let all the prisoners out," were not viable.

"We'll look at every nook and crack in this building to see if there's a bag of money someone forgot about," Gilstrap said.

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