Democratic leaders in the Kansas House and Senate introduced a plan they way will restore funding to Kansas public schools next year. Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, Topeka, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Lawrence, unveiled their proposal this morning.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced his own proposal to rework the state’s school funding formula last month, but Davis said in a press release the funding isn’t the problem – cuts to education funding are.
“Cuts to Kansas schools have gone way too far in the last few years,” Davis said. “…There is no reason to overhaul a school finance formula that has already withstood the muster of the Kansas Supreme Court.”
The Democratic proposal would apply 50 percent of excess state revenues to education funding. Initially, the state would infuse public schools with an additional $45 million in fiscal year 2013 from an estimated $351 million surplus. In 2014, the state would invest another $45 million in school funding before annually distributing 50 percent of surplus revenues to schools in 2015 and beyond.
The plan would return base state aid per pupil to the court-approved level of $4,492. Weightings in the formula that provide additional funds to schools based on things like transportation needs and the number of students on free and reduced lunches would be retained under the proposal.
Maintaining existing weightings in the current formula would ensure that costly, legal battles between the state and school districts are avoided in the future, Democrat leaders said.
The Gardner Edgerton School District is one of several schools across the state currently suing the legislature over school funding.
Hensley said the Democrat plan will appropriately fund schools without burdening Kansas residents with increases in local property taxes. That’s a distinct contrast between the Governor’s school finance plan and the plan Democrats are proposing, he said.
A key element in Brownback’s plan eliminates a local tax ceiling in the existing school finance formula allowing districts to raise additional funds through property taxes.
According to Democratic leadership, Kansas property taxes have increased by 65 percent in the last decade. Their proposal, Hensley explained, will offer property tax relief. After 50 percent of excess revenues have been divvied to schools, Democrats will propose transferring $45 million in excess revenues to cities and counties through the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund. The fund, established in 1938 for the purpose of reducing local property taxes, has been buffered with state funds since 2004.
“Democrats value public education and we want the state budget to reflect that by using extra state revenue to make an investment in our children’s future,” Hensley said. “Our proposal is a reasonable, multi-year plan that will restore education cuts incrementally without increasing the tax burden on local property taxpayers.”
— Danedri Thompson