Legislature needs to find courage
Three weeks into the legislative session, local school districts learned Feb. 5 that the Kansas Legislature isn't going to raid the budgets they have been operating under for the past seven months. The news came when Senate President Kerr's move to trim the current fiscal year's budget failed to garner needed support in the Senate.
Any relief school administrators felt about the so-called recession bill's demise was probably tempered by the fact that Dave Kerr's spending plan was far from the worst-case scenario for K-12 education in light of the state's tax revenue shortfall. Kerr's plan would have softened the effect of budget cuts on the 2002-2003 budget by trimming spending in the current year.
Its demise also leaves the Legislature floundering for an education spending plan. Legislative procrastination over the budget is nothing new. But given the magnitude of the nearly half-billion dollar budget shortfall that could wipe out three years of gains in per-pupil spending, there should be greater urgency in Topeka this year.
Among the solutions that have been proposed is a suggestion that school districts be given the ability to pay for employee benefits with a special assessment on the local mill levy. That is unacceptable, as is any suggestion that the Legislature find its way out of the K-12 spending dilemma with greater reliance on local property tax. That source of revenue is tapped out in districts like De Soto that already present local property taxpayers with maximum local option budgets and bond issues to build new classrooms.
Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer recently told the De Soto Chamber of Commerce that income tax receipts won't recover from the downturn in the state's agricultural and aircraft sectors until next year.
The Legislature, so used to grandstanding over phony tax cuts that actually sent the education bill back to local property taxpayers, needs to discover the courage to put together a sales tax package that funds education at the painful but livable level Kerr proposed. We would also suggest constituent pressure is a likely source of legislative courage.