Will $610 Million Do?

The Kansas City Star says that Kansas House narrowly passes education plan. (HB 2986)

TOPEKA — A $610 million school spending plan pushed by a coalition of House Democrats and Republican moderates was narrowly approved today by the Kansas House.

Senate leaders said they plan to vote next week on a $660 million plan proposed by the Senate Education Committee.

Will the state actually be able to afford the package? That’s one question being asked by some members of the House. Other questions not asked: will the legislature be able to muster a tax increase if required? Or cut spending elsewhere? The plan may (or not) satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court, but then again, the Court has the luxury of not taking other budget priorities into account.

Here’s the breakout of the House plan:

Basic state aid: Increased $50 per student in each of three years. Current level is $4,257 per student. Cost: $77.2 million

■ At-Risk state aid: Increases from $822 currently to $2,125 in the third year of the plan. Cost: $173 million.

■ All-day kindergarten: Cost: $15.4 million the first year, $23 million the second and $30.8 million in the third.

■ Special education: State subsidy increases $30 million the first year, $25 million the second and $25 million the third.

■ Aid for large school districts: Increases $14.2 million in each of the three years.

(Which definition of “at risk” would apply? Test scores or socioeconomic status?)

One wonders where the money for “small districts” is: isn’t everyone entitled to more? That seems to be the operating pattern here.

Also, in a nod to Johnson County, the limit on LOB (local funding) increases, going up two consecutive years from 27 percent today to 33 percent in the second year. With the court’s blessing, it could be eliminated after that–a step towards local control but away from equality of spending.

Meanwhile, the Wichita Eaglereportss on what funding that plan through tax increases would mean one of the following:

■• Sales tax increase of 2 cents on each $1 of retail sales, or

■21.88 mill increase in property taxes, or

■ 21.9 percent income tax surcharge, equivalent to an additional $641 for someone earning $75,000 a year.

To put that into perspective, the statewide sales tax is 5.3 percent. Local governments are allowed to level their own sales tax add-ons; as this 14-page PDF document (Sales and Use Tax Jurisdiction Code Booklet) from the Kansas Department of Revenue points out, many local governments use this provision. The move would push sales tax rates in a handful (or two) of areas into double digits: that is, over 10 percent.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of education. But maybe it’s possible to overpay for it.

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