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UPDATE: Kansas House Panel Approves GOP Leaders' School Funding Plan

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Paradox 56, flickr Creative Commons
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Updated Story:

A Kansas House committee has approved a plan from top Republican lawmakers to overhaul how the state distributes aid to public schools.

The House Appropriations Committee's voice vote Tuesday sends the plan to the full House for a debate that could occur later this week.

The committee voted despite bipartisan criticism that it is moving too quickly. GOP leaders unveiled the plan only last week.

The plan jettisons the current formula and gives the state's 286 districts "block grants" based on their current aid for two years, until the Legislature drafts a new formula.

GOP leaders contend the state's current per-student formula doesn't put enough money into classrooms. The state also can face unanticipated but automatic spending increases.

Many educators say the current formula is sound.

Original Story:

The chief financial officer in Kansas' largest school district is urging lawmakers to give more consideration to a plan from Republican leaders that would how the state distributes funding to public schools.

The House Appropriations Committee will debate the plan today, a day after having a hearing, and five days after Republican leaders unveiled the plan. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is holding its own hearing today, also with the intent of moving quickly.

Jim Freeman, CFO for Wichita's 51,000-student school district, told the House committee, "One of my main concerns is that this bill is on such a fast track."

The plan incorporates Governor Sam Brownback's proposal to cut the current formula and give the state's 286 districts "block grants" based on their current funding, until the Legislature drafts a new formula.

Top Republicans want to move quickly because funding for public schools is the biggest item in the state budget.

Legislators must close a budget shortfall projected at nearly $600 million dollars for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It arose after they aggressively cut income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging.

Local school officials and lobbyists for education groups testified yesterday against the plan. The educators said the state's current plan for distributing aid to school districts is sound and adjusts funding quickly when student populations change.

Brownback and many GOP legislators consider the existing formula overly complicated, but Freeman suggested the Republican plan, in a bill running 97 pages, also is "pretty complex."