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Kansas House committee backs slight increase in school funding

Updated: 2013-02-19T02:10:07Z

The Associated Press

— A slight increase in per-student spending in fiscal year 2015 were included in a Kansas public school budget that advanced Monday.

Following a recommendation from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, the House Appropriations Committee approved spending $3.8 billion for kindergarten through 12th grade, including $3 billion from state revenues, in each of the next two fiscal years.

In fiscal year 2014, the budget per pupil would remain at $3,838. It would increase to $3,852 in fiscal 2015. There are more than 456,000 students in Kansas.

Work on the spending proposal is taking place while other committees debate the merits of Brownback’s tax proposal, including further cuts in individual income tax rates and removing some exemptions and deductions to replace lost revenue. A Senate committee has endorsed most of the tax changes but has yet to debate the bill on the chamber floor.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the House committee’s action marked progress but could be just a mere formality, given revenue uncertainties.

“Our concern is that the ability to fund that amount depends on some revenue changes that the governor has already proposed,” Tallman said.

In higher education spending, the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a $2.5 billion budget that largely follows Brownback’s recommendations. However, the committee on Monday backed a proposal from Sen. Tom Arpke, a Salina Republican, to reject a $10 million request for expanding the University of Kansas Hospital and School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan., something that the governor had wanted.

The project is expected to cost $75 million, with the rest of the funds coming from private donations. The state’s portion would be spread out with $3 million in the fiscal year beginning in July and $7 million for the following fiscal year.

Officials argue that the expansion would allow KU to integrate training for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and says it’s necessary to maintain the accreditation of the state’s only medical school.

Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said that if the state doesn’t commit its own dollars to the project, private donors will have doubts.

“The $10 million that you’re taking away here is just a down payment,” Kelly said. “It’s very important to the state of Kansas to have an accredited medical school. You know we need more doctors.”

Arpke said that over the last decade, tuition at KU has risen more quickly than it has at other state universities while its student population has increased over the last five years.

Arpke also is pushing for a full audit of the university’s operations, which the full committee endorsed.

“I’m not denying that it’s an important project. I’m asking for fiscal responsibility, so I think there are other funds available. We could use these dollars somewhere else,” Arpke said after the committee’s meeting. “We have a very tight budget this year.”

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