Kansas Lawmakers Worked Late On School Funding Plan

MGN Online
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas House committee has approved an education funding plan that will boost the state's total annual aid to public schools by $78 million.

The Appropriations Committee voted 12-11 late Tuesday to send the measure to the full House for debate later this week.

The measure is designed to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court decision last month directing lawmakers to increasing aid to poor school districts.

The plan would provide an additional $141 million to poor districts. But it would offset the cost by trimming $63 million from other forms of aid to all school districts. It would reduce the state's funding for school transportation programs, teacher pensions and programs helping students at risk of failing.

School districts also could levy additional local property taxes to supplement their state funds.

In the upper chamber, a Kansas Senate committee finished their work late Tuesday on their school finance proposal.

The proposal advanced on a voice vote and could be debated as early as Thursday. The Senate plan would spend $129 million to increase aid designed to equalize education spending among districts.

To pay for the increase, the Senate Ways and Means Committee would rely on $80 million in reductions in state agency spending. The rest would be made up through changes in the existing school finance formula.

Complicating matters was a tight schedule, with lawmakers preparing to start a three-week recess on Friday. Legislative leaders have said they would like the school matter settled before returning in late April to finish any remaining business.

The budget panels are weighing various proposals to offset the cost by trimming other types of aid to all school districts, including transportation funds. Weighing on the discussions were amendments sought to expand charter schools, force districts to tap reserve accounts to replace state funding support and changes to implementation of new math and reading standards.

Gov. Sam Brownback said he remains confident that lawmakers can pass a single plan this week.

"I think we're really pretty close," the governor told The Associated Press. "Given the nature of these things, I think it's really pretty close."

He added: "Everybody's trying to calibrate the agreement to be able to fix what the court had said, get as much money into the classroom as possible and be able to sustain it long-term in the budget."

The Supreme Court ruled March 7 in an education funding lawsuit, giving legislators until July to fix two funds that help equalize spending among poorer school districts. The court ruled the state's funding of those programs was unconstitutional.

Under both proposals, districts would see a reduction in transportation aid by recalculating how districts are reimbursed for taking students to and from school.

Funding for virtual schools would be cut by between $3 million and $5 million by making adjustments to reimbursements districts get for providing the courses. Districts also would no longer receive additional funds for opening new buildings in the 2014-2015 school year.

Districts would be allowed to raise the amount of property taxes generated locally to a cap of 33 percent of their total budget, subject to public vote.

Posted by: Greg Palmer