TOPEKA – An annual school funding fee of $120 for each owner of a water right or permit to appropriate water and who uses water for irrigation purposes is included in the State Senate’s new school finance bill.

Senate Bill 251 also would impose a $2.25 monthly fee on each residential gas bill, electric bill and water bill. Commercial entities would be assessed $10 a month on each of those three utilities.

Most farmers actually live in town, and thus would be paying the fee on their residential water bill, pointed out Sen. Bud Estes, R-Dodge City, and the only western Kansas lawmaker on the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance.

What if water rights are over multiple school districts? Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, asked.

If a person owns more than one water right or permit, he would be assessed only one school funding fee which would go to the state, she was told.

McGinn said she wanted to know how that charge was determined. The committee is expected to meet today and also could work on the bill Saturday.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s chief engineer of the Division of Water Resources would charge and collect the $120 from the water rights owner, and remit it to the state treasurer. The entire sum would be credited to the state school district finance fund.

Payment would be due on or before March 1 of each year. The first payment, due by March 1, 2018, would be prorated to reflect the partial year and would be $40. Names and addresses of those who did not pay the school funding fee would be given to the state treasurer.

Under the bill, local utilities would start charging monthly school funding fees in September 2017. The state would not provide the utilities compensation for the addition to their billings.

If a utility – such as a smaller cooperative – was not ready to implement billing in September, it could delay collections up to six months, as long as all fees are backdated and collected.

“This sounds like retroactivity to me,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

The chairman of the committee, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, criticized an income tax bill because it had a retroactive component.

Ninety percent of utilities could be ready to collect the fee starting Sept. 1, Denning said.

The Senate bill would set state base aid per pupil at $4,006 for 2017-18. That’s the same as the House school funding bill, House Bill 2410. But the House bill proposes a base rate of $4,128 for the second year, 2018-19, while the Senate bill proposes $4,080.

The current rate, frozen by the two-year block grants, is $3,852 per pupil. The peak base rate was $4,400 in 2008-09.

The Senate committee heard testimony Thursday, and the proposed base rates drew fire:

-Kansas National Education Association: “Woefully inadequate” and not likely to be accepted when the Kansas Supreme Court reviews the formula and funding.

-Pratt USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton: “$4,006 is not an adequate amount to fund a student’s education in 2018.”

-Valley Center USD 262 Superintendent Cory Gibson: “A vote for the funding measures included in HB2410 is likely a vote for a school shutdown due to an unfavorable view by the Kansas Supreme Court.”

-Kansas Association of School Boards: “The base amount should be higher.”

Another piece of the Senate bill would prohibit local government from waiving the 20-mill property tax levy for school funding when granting incentives to businesses or developers. It also opposes waiving the capital outlay mill levy.

“Incentives we offer pay for themselves many times over,” stated the city of Olathe’s Tim Danneberg, objecting to that portion of the bill.

Kansas Policy Institute opposed the Senate school finance bill for various reasons, saying the funding numbers were arbitrarily selected and there is no accountability of improving student outcomes.

The Supreme Court spotlighted the failure of about 25 percent of students to perform math and reading at grade level in its ruling that found school funding inadequate.

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