Expansion of vouchers crops up in school finance talks

The lead Senate negotiator on school finance on Saturday offered to agree to a House proposal that would increase aid to schools by $280 million over two years, but added a new wrinkle — expansion of vouchers.

House negotiators said they needed to study the proposal further. The school finance conference committee is scheduled to meet again at 1 p.m. Sunday. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to gavel in at 2 p.m.

If the House side agrees to the Senate’s “global” offer on funding and other issues, there could be important votes later Sunday by the full House and Senate on a new finance formula. Education advocates are urged to stay abreast of possible developments by following KASB and KASB staff on Facebook, Twitter and www.kasb.org.

After Day 106 of the session, legislators remained at odds over school funding, a tax plan to pay for any K-12 increase and how to resolve an estimated $900 million state budget shortfall all while the clock is ticking on a June 30 deadline from the Kansas Supreme Court to adequately fund public schools.

On the issue of taxes, there were closed door discussions Saturday among legislators on how to win majorities in the House and Senate and overturn a possible veto by Gov. Sam Brownback, but nothing publicly was announced or voted on. Some senators said one proposal being floated would be to dedicate all state income tax revenue to public schools, apparently as a way to show the state Supreme Court that the Legislature is serious about K-12 funding.

On the school finance measure — which will be contained in a conference committee report — the Senate offered to accept the House position on funding, which was approximately $50 million higher. The measure would increase base state aid to $4,006 per student next year and $4,128 per student in the year after that.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, also proposed expanding a scholarship tax credit program, commonly referred to as vouchers. Under the current program, approved in 2014, corporations and businesses can donate money for certain students from low-income families to go to private school. The corporation receives a tax credit worth 70 percent of the amount contributed.

Under the Senate proposal, individuals and LLCs would be eligible to contribute and get the tax credit. The program would still be limited to $10 million in tax credits and the maximum contribution would be capped at $500,000. On Thursday, Gov. Sam Brownback said he would like to see expansion of school choice.

The committee is also negotiating differences in the two bills on the use of tax proceeds from capital outlay.

The Senate side of the committee also said it would accept House positions on at-risk weighting — 0.484 percent with a 10 percent minimum enrollment — and high-density, at-risk weighting — 35 percent to 50 percent transition weighting with a maximum factor of 0.105.

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