Politics & Government

House plan would give school districts ability to raise taxes for activities

Kansas State Capitol, Statehouse, Capitol Dome Topeka
Kansas State Capitol, Statehouse, Capitol Dome Topeka File photo

Some area school districts would have a new way to pay for extracurricular activities with higher property taxes under a bill advanced by the House last week.

The House agreed to a proposal by Rep. Kelly Meigs that would give certain school districts the ability to ask voters to approve property tax increases for activities such as band, athletics or various clubs. The proposal had been sought by Johnson County lawmakers.

Meigs, a Lenexa Republican, said she wanted to give local voters a chance to put more money into school activities if they wanted.

“This is fair.”

The plan to increase funding for extracurricular activities applies only to 66 school districts where local option funding equals at least 30 percent of state aid.

It would apply to these districts in Sedgwick County: Clearwater, Derby, Goddard, Haysville, Maize, Mulvane, Renwick and Valley Center. And to these districts in Butler County: Andover, Augusta, Circle, El Dorado and Rose Hill.

The vote was a breakthrough for a proposal that has been defeated a couple of times in the House.

The provision was included in a wide-ranging education bill that includes Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to allow high school students to take vocational education classes at a community college without being charged tuition.

It also includes a plan for changing teacher evaluations so they would be based on multiple measures of student achievement and growth.

The bill is now headed to a conference committee, where House members hope it has a fighting chance with senators.

Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said the bill would help Johnson County schools.

But he also said it was intentionally packaged with a number of other bills that the Senate opposes, making passage more difficult.

The proposal had been tried in the House before but ran into concerns about giving Johnson County districts access to more money.

“Unfortunately that plays out,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee.

“This has been one issue that has always been problematic. There’s always been a thought that they have nice schools and why do they need more?”

But Aurand credited Johnson County’s freshman lawmakers with persuading lawmakers to give the proposal enough votes to pass.

“I think the freshman Johnson County legislators went out and worked it,” Aurand said. “They tried to stay away from the back-and-forth about pro-Johnson County versus anti-Johnson County.”

The plan caps the amount schools could raise in new taxes at 2 percent of the local and state money spent on a statewide average per pupil.

Just how the ability to raise property taxes would affect activity fees charged by school districts was unclear.

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