March 2, 2006

Kansas Senate offers new school funding plan

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Leaders in the Kansas Senate proposed a
new bipartisan plan on Thursday that would boost funding for
public schools by $660 million over three years, although some
of that money would have to be raised locally.

Under the plan unveiled by Senate majority Republican and
minority Democrat leaders, the state would provide $480 million
in new state funding. Primary and secondary school districts
would have to provide matching funds totaling $180 million.

"Clearly, a plan of this size and scope will stretch state
resources to the absolute maximum," said Senate President Steve
Morris, a Hugoton Republican, in a statement. "While revenues
have been higher than projected this year, we will be in
pressing need of new dollars in the out years if we are to
sustain these significant increases in state aid to schools. We
will need to explore all possibilities."

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in January 2005 that
lawmakers failed to meet their responsibility under the state
constitution to suitably fund schools. The high court
subsequently ordered a funding increase last year, which
resulted in lawmakers giving schools a $289 million boost in
the current state budget.

The Senate proposal differs from one introduced in the
House last week. The House bill calls for a $500 million
increase in state funding over three years, starting with $175
million more for schools in the first year. The Senate plan
would increase funding by $251 million in the first year.

Funding levels in both bills fall short of a $316 million
to $399 million fiscal 2007 increase a January report from the
state's Legislative Division of Post Audit said was needed to
suitably fund schools. They are also far below funding levels
in another study cited by the state supreme court.

The lawsuit that led to the court directive for more school
money was filed in 1999 by districts in Salina and Dodge City.