(TOPEKA, Kan.)—(AP) Democrats said Tuesday that they want to spend some of the state's expected revenue surplus to restore funding to Kansas public schools that has been cut in recent years.
The proposal is in stark contrast to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's desire to rewrite the school finance formula and place more responsibility for education funding on local boards of education.
"There is no reason to overhaul a school finance formula that has already withstood the muster of the Kansas Supreme Court," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence. "The Legislature simply needs to hold up its end of the bargain and fund the formula properly."
The governor's staff recently outlined its new school finance formula, the first major revision in nearly two decades. The governor's staff said Brownback's proposed budget will include an additional $24 million during the current fiscal year and $21 million during fiscal 2013 to keep base state aid for public schools at the current $3,780 per pupil.
Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said given the cuts to education in recent years, legislators need to take a look at all school finance options available, including the governor's and Democrats'.
"At the end of the day, my hope is we do what is best for Kansas children," Morris said.
Democrats say their plan is a better alternative to the Brownback proposal for several reasons, including the governor's desire to eliminate so-called weighting factors that send additional funds to districts based on demographics.
They also argue that state spending on schools will be capped at the 2012-13 funding level and districts would be forced to raise local property taxes to keep up with rising costs. Democrats said that those increases might not improve education but only allow school districts to keep up with inflation.
Brownback also is planning to announce a tax package that is expected to call for reductions in income taxes for businesses and individuals, part of his plan to improve the state's economic climate. Democrats said the priority is misplaced.
"Republicans want to give our surplus revenue to corporations who already aren't paying their fair share," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. "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."
In addition, Democrats want to restore a program that sends revenue to cities and counties to lower property tax rates. They propose giving local governments $45 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2014, also from the state's reserves.
Legislators eliminated the revenue-sharing program with cities and counties in 2004 as they sought to balance the state budget in the wake of a recession.