Holland, Brownback differ on school-funding plan's effect

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland said Friday that his Republican opponent Sam Brownback's plan for school finance would force an increase in property taxes.

A Brownback spokeswoman said that is not the case and that Holland is confusing Brownback's proposal with a Republican state representative's plan that Brownback does not support.

Citing a quote from a Kansas City television interview, Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, charged that Brownback, a U.S. senator from Topeka, wants to change the school finance system to something "more like an earlier school finance bill in Kansas, before the current bill."

The current finance plan was put together by lawmakers after several districts succeeded in a court case challenging whether the state was meeting its constitutional obligation to provide suitable education throughout the state.

"Under the old formula, the one Sam Brownback wants to go back to, communities like Wichita had to raise their property taxes to pay for schools," Holland said. "The state had failed to fund schools, so local communities were raising taxes to keep the chalk in the tray and books on the shelf."

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for the Brownback campaign, said Holland is confusing Brownback's plan with one proposed by Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.

"Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid's plan is not our plan," Jones-Sontag said. "We understand there will be several proposals made by legislators and others on how the Kansas Legislature should resolve our state's school finance formula issue. Sen. Brownback ...(is) anxious to hear more about all of them."

She said Brownback intends to bring together legislators and education stakeholders — including parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and others — to hammer out a finance plan that meets constitutional muster, directs more money to classroom education and avoids forcing consolidation of school districts.

Holland, the underdog in the race, challenged Brownback to face him in more debates than the two currently scheduled in the race.

The first meeting was a radio debate at the State Fair Sept. 11, arranged by Topeka station WIBW. A second debate is scheduled for noon on Oct. 13, to be televised on WIBW-TV. It was not immediately clear whether the debate would be telecast in Wichita.

Holland noted that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and her opponent, state Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, debated five times in their 2006 gubernatorial race, including once in Wichita.

Holland said he thinks Brownback should agree to a similar series of debates and that in his view, Brownback owes Wichita, the state's largest city, at least one opportunity to see the candidates head to head.

Both Holland and Brownback have solo appearances coming up in Wichita. Holland said he would clear his schedule to accommodate Brownback's timetable, and he's willing to meet him in debate any time.

Jones-Sontag said Brownback has visited Wichita seven times during the course of the campaign so far. She said he prefers "direct dialogue" with voters to the staged and time-limited debate format.