Lawmakers suggest raising local option budget to help school funding

WICHITA, Kansas – Lawmakers have been ordered to pay about $130 million more for education.

While lawmakers passed a school funding package to get it done, some school districts say they may actually lost money.

Newton school superintendent Dr. Deborah Hamm says she wonders if lawmakers could have offered more money from the state.

“The reality is, our district is losing approximately $360,000 in budget authority for next year,” says Dr. Hamm.

But some lawmakers on Thursday pointed out, school districts could raise a lot of money, if they raise taxes on the local level.

“Yes, the local option budget is moving a little bit this year, and a school district like Wichita schools could raise millions more for their bottom line,” says Kansas House Republican Steve Brunk. “You have to consider the school finance package as a whole.”

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Brunk says he understands some schools may chose to not raise their taxes.

“Certainly, that is possible,” says Brunk. “But, there is some tax relief built into the school finance deal.”

And Brunk and other lawmakers who voted “yes” for the new school finance package say a tax break means school districts can raise the local option budget.

“I will be asking to dip into our reserves to help out on the budget for next year,” says Dr. Hamm. “We can’t raise the local option budget again, the way things stand now.”

Lawmakers say most schools will get more, maybe millions, if they raise their local taxes through that local option budget.

“Keep in mind, this is only part of the puzzle,” says Brunk. “There is much more to this, than the local option budget. That is one piece.”

Brunk says lawmakers also put new standards into play for Kansas Schools. The “Rose” standards are now part of the new bill. Rose standards, which come from Kentucky, require schools to meet certain standards like written communication, social studies standards and physical wellness along with a “grounding” in the arts.

“We have finally tied standards to the dollar amount the state is paying to schools,” says Brunk.

KSN asked several lawmakers to address school leader concerns about more funding.

“We have added more money for equity funding between richer and so-called poorer districts,” says Brunk. “But, we went well beyond what the court mandated.”

“Well, I don’t know if the lawmakers really did what was required in the lawsuit,” said Dr. Hamm this week.

Brunk said, ultimately, voters can decide if they want to raise more money on the local level.

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