TOPEKA - Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, Topeka, and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, Lawrence, were joined by members of the Senate and House Democratic caucuses today to unveil a plan that will begin restoring state funding to Kansas public schools in the next fiscal year.
The proposal models a funding mechanism very similar to what House Republicans applied to Senate Bill 1 during the 2011 legislative session. Instead of applying 100 percent of excess revenue to corporate tax breaks, however, Kansas Democrats will direct 50 percent of that money to the restoration of public education funding.
"Cuts to Kansas schools have gone way too far in the last few years," said Davis. "But the problem has not been the formula, it has been the lack of funding. There is no reason to overhaul a school finance formula that has already withstood the muster of the Kansas Supreme Court. Governor Brownback and the Legislature simply need to hold up their end of the bargain and fund the formula properly."
Democrats' proposal will make an initial "down payment" of $45 million to Kansas schools in FY 2013 out of the current $351 million state surplus. This will help provide local districts some much needed relief in the 2012-2013 school year. Another $45 million investment will be applied in the 2013 - 2014 school year (FY 2014). Then, in FY 2015, 50 percent of any excess state revenue will be applied annually until the base is returned to the court-approved level of $4,492 per student. Based on current revenue estimates, this plan would restore all Kansas schools to their statutory level of aid within five years. It will also maintain the weightings of the current formula, ensuring that costly, legal battles are avoided in the future.
Additionally, Kansas property taxpayers who have watched their property taxes skyrocket by 65 percent over the last decade will finally see some relief under this proposal. The estimated excess state revenue in FY 2015 is estimated to total $180 million. After applying 50 percent of that to public schools, Democrats propose transferring $45 million to cities and counties. This $45 million transfer would go into the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, which has existed since 1938, for the purpose of reducing local property taxes. No such transfer has been made since 2004.
Ultimately, this plan will leave $45 million in excess state revenue available in the ending balance for other critical state investments, such as the establishment of a rainy day fund or social services.
"There's a distinct contrast between the Democratic plan and the Brownback plan for Kansas schools," said Hensley. "Governor Brownback wants to give our surplus revenue to corporations who already aren't paying their fair share. 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. Our proposal is a reasonable, multi-year plan that will restore education cuts incrementally without increasing the tax burden on local property taxpayers. Unlike Gov. Brownback's school finance plan, our plan will NOT raise local property taxes. In fact, we're going to give Kansans a much-needed property tax cut."
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