Daily Archives: Jan. 10, 2012

Democrats seek to boost Kansas school funding

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis speaks about school finance to students at Lowman Hill Elementary School in Topeka

TOPEKA — With a gym full of elementary schoolchildren looking on, legislative Democrats proposed a plan to add at least $90 million to school funding in the next two years.

The money would come from the current state surplus of $351 million, said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

And three years hence, half of all state excess revenue would go to schools until per-pupil revenue reaches the court-approved level of $4,492 under the Democrats’ proposal.

The other 50 percent would go to reduce local property taxes. Hensley said that would return about $7.4 million to Sedgwick County property taxpayers.

The Democrats’ plans for education come the day before Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to address the topic in his State of the State address.

Details have not been disclosed, but Brownback is expected to propose using the surplus money to reduce state income taxes.

Brownnack wants to freeze most school spending at the current level, which have been substantially reduced in recent years because of budget problems.

He also wants to rework the school finance formula to allow local voters to raise their property taxes as much as they want for schools, and to give districts more flexibility in how they spend extra money they get for at-risk pupils.

Much of the discussion about issues such as base state aid went well over the heads of the kindergarten-through-fifth grade children of Lowman Hill Elementary School, who were trooped down to their gym for the combination news conference/social studies assignment.

But a lot of them did pick up the general concept that more money for schools would mean more for them.

Tyler Smith, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said he learned “we should do some fundraisers to support the school so we can get more school equipment and supplies so (students) can get a good education.”

“I learned that we should have more field trips,” added his classmate, 9-year-old third grader Logan Godt. Also, “we need like, glue sticks and pencils and stuff like that. And we need more books.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, chats with Lowman Hill Elementary School "Mayor" and fifth-grader Jocelyn Mercer.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita was among about a half-dozen Democratic legislators who joined their leaders at the news conference.

He urged against making changes to the current school funding formula, devised in a 2005 special session that followed a lawsuit in which the state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature was not adequately funding education.

He said the current formula is equitable, bipartisan and court-approved — but needs more money.

“Kansans don’t want another long, drawn out fight over school finance,” Ward said. “They just want the governor and the Legislature to hold up their end of a bargain that was struck 151 years ago by our state’s founders. They want lawmakers to give our kids a chance and fund our schools.”

Hensley’s House counterpart, Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the issue is about a lot more than numbers.

“Somewhere sitting, perhaps right here in this gymnasium, is the next Dwight Eisenhower or Amelia Earhart,” he said. “They came to school today to learn and be able to succeed. And what they need is a boost from the state of Kansas to make sure they can realize their dreams.”

Lawmaker criticizes House Speaker O’Neal

More dark clouds could be on the horizon for Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal as the legislative session begins, Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star reports:

Conservative state Rep. Owen Donohoe of Shawnee took aim at O’Neal in a letter he circulated to the House Republican caucus. He ripped into the speaker for nepotism and “abuse of power.” He suggested it might be time for a new leader.

“As we approach the 2012 legislative session, I would like to share my concern about the continuous abuse of power and nepotism by Speaker O’Neal which has compromised the integrity of the Republican caucus,” says the opening paragraph of the letter.

“I feel that the Speaker’s violations will make it extremely difficult to arrive at legislation that is in the best interest of our constituents when it is so compromised from the start,” Donohoe wrote in the letter.

“I believe the Republican caucus should examine its leadership in light of these issues, and determine if this is what we want in our leaders. I would like to know your feelings about these issues.”

The Donohoe letter comes just days after O’Neal gained national notoriety for an email he forwarded to lawmakers that compared First Lady Michelle Obama’s hair to the Grinch and called her “Mrs. YoMama.”

Donohoe criticized the hiring of O’Neal’s wife, Cindy, as secretary of the appropriations committee led by Rep. Marc Rhoades of Newton.

Go to the Midwest Democracy Project to read more.