Archive for Thursday, January 12, 2006

O’Connor rejects post-audit report

January 12, 2006

Local legislators had different responses to a Legislative Post Audit report that says public schools need at least $316 million to fulfill educational regulations.

Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, serves as a member of the Legislative Post Audit Committee.

He said the report, released Monday, studied kindergarten through 12th-grade funding in all Kansas public school districts. The report used requirements of the No Child Left Behind law and the Kansas Constitution to determine the funding needed to provide a "suitable" education for every student in Kansas. The report estimates that with the requirements, the level of funding needed for the entire state would need to raise $316.2 million using the input-based approach, and would be $399.3 million using the outcomes-based approach.

Jordan said new recommendations for school finance could help some Johnson County districts.

"This post audit study not only suggests new money, but some new ways of funding at-risk students, such as urban at-risk students and figuring the cost-of-living (for teachers) element into the plan," he said.

De Soto USD 232 communications director Alvie Cater said district officials would wait to see what the legislator does with the report.

"We're pleased the report does call for funding public education," he said.

Sandy Thierer, president of the De Soto board, said she would have to study the report more to understand it, but that schools need more money to make up for the unfunded mandates in the No Child Left Behind law requiring all students be proficient in every subject by 2014.

Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, said she was disappointed by the report.

"There's no way I'm going to support that report," she said. "I fully expected to have a lot of information to use. I was anxious when they figured out the cost of education they would find out how the private-sector schooling handles things."

O'Connor, who represents De Soto, said while she didn't have any specific examples of public-sector funding being out of line, she wanted the study to look into public school expenditures not related to education.

"They did not address the issue that swimming pools and sports stadiums and Arizona dirt are not mandated by either the constitution or the statutes," she said, referring to a new stadium in Olathe. "We do have a statutory requirement of physical education, so they might say that was required, but apparently this was not even addressed."

O'Connor said she wouldn't support any new tax increases for education.

"We are spending like crazy, and we're building a deficit," she said. "We have got to learn to live within our means, and if that means we can't bring in dirt from Arizona, so be it."

She criticized the Olathe district for giving money for temporary living for children and other expenses.

"How many times have we heard public schools are giving money to their local chambers of commerce?" she asked. "It may not be against the law, but it's not statutorily required. This kind of expense was totally ignored."

Jordan said he hoped the audit report would help legislators work to find a consensus on how to fund schools. He said he listened to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' State of the State address, which she delivered Monday to the Legislature. The governor suggested funding could be diverted to schools without tax raises.

"We might be able to do it without a tax increase. I don't know yet," Jordan said. "I'll have to see a responsible, multi-year plan first."

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