Brownback’s school funding plan will allow for more tax leeway

By Scott Rothschild

Gov. Sam Brownback’s point man on school finance said Wednesday that the governor’s proposal to overhaul school funding will not force local districts to raise taxes but will give them greater ability to do so.

“If you can operate under what you have right now, it will not necessitate it,” Brownback’s Policy Director Landon Fulmer said when asked if the proposal would push more tax increases onto local districts.

But Fulmer told the Legislative Educational Planning Committee that the proposal would allow counties and local districts more leeway in raising property and sales taxes for their schools.

He said there is “a strong philosophical belief” in the Brownback administration to give locals unlimited control in raising funds for public schools.

As the committee questioned various proposals under Brownback’s plan, Committee Chair Jean Kurtis Schodorf, R-Wichita, said legislators needed facts about how the proposal would affect each school district. “The devil’s in the dollars,” she said.

Fulmer said he should have that information next week when he makes his second presentation to the State Board of Education.

Brownback has made overhauling the school finance system a major priority, saying the current formula is under constant litigation. But some have raised concerns, saying that allowing more local taxing authority will increase inequities between rich and poor school districts and actually will prompt more litigation.

Fulmer also said that Brownback’s proposal would include a “hold harmless” provision, meaning that no school district would get less money in the proposed school finance formula than under the current one.

But under questioning from committee members, Fulmer said some school districts would get less money if the number of students dropped.

“Your saying hold harmless light,” said Sen. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford.

Brownback has made record cuts to base state aid to schools, which currently stands at $3,780 per pupil, the lowest level since 2000.

Committee members approved a motion to recommend no further cuts from the $3,780 level, which several said would be Brownback’s recommendation for the next school year. But Brownback’s office said his recommendation on base state aid per pupil is still being finalized.

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