State Journal: Finance fracas in Kansas

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A series of small but heated debates has erupted in Kansas over attempts to recast the school-finance formula, but so far the discourse has focused more on personalities and politics than on the competing proposals.

In her State of the State Address last month, Gov. Joan Finney unveiled a proposal to establish a uniform statewide property tax to fund public education.

The plan was devised by a special panel convened by the Democratic Governor in response to a warning from a local judge that the state's school finance law was ripe for a constitutional challenge.

But Ms. Finney still was waiting impatiently this month for Democrats in the legislature to introduce a measure based on her proposals.

"We've been in session now, what, five weeks? And I still haven't seen a bill," she complained.

Representative Rick Bowden, the chairman of the House Education Committee who helped draft the Governor's finance plan, said the proposal was strongly opposed by rural districts because a proposed spending cap in it would effectively force them to consolidate.

The House Democratic leadership has espoused an alternative plan that would allow districts to raise their annual budgets by 10 percent over the statewide average per-pupil expenditure, if local taxpayers were willing to fund the difference.

Ms. Finney subsequently revised her plan to allow districts to increase their budgets by 5 percent with voter approval.

But even before hearings could be scheduled on the competing measures, House Republicans attacked the propriety of Mr. Bowden's role in drafting finance-reform measures.

They pointed out that Mr. Bowden is a teacher for the Wichita schools, which filed the finance lawsuit that led to the current scramble.

Republicans then unsuccessfully challenged the Democratic leadership's decision to hold public hearings on the finance plans in a building where the Kansas Association of School Boards--which supports finance reform--was holding its annual meeting.

Representative Robert H. Miller, the leader of House Republicans, said the location would intimidate any critic "who opposes the education establishment."

If reporting from the scene is accurate, however, few opponents were cowed.

Many critics attended the hearings wearing orange "Say No to Socialism" buttons. Others backed a budding movement for southwestern Kansas to secede from the state.


Vol. 11, Issue 23

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