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 came 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.
Brownback wants to freeze most school spending at the current level, which has 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, 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.”
The Kansas Constitution says that the state will adequately fund public education.
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.”