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The Topeka Capital-Journal - Holland on Ed Finance, Vouchers

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By Tim Carpenter

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Holland denounced Tuesday a public school finance reform allegedly hinted at by his Republican rival.

Holland said during a Statehouse news conference GOP nominee Sam Brownback suggested the state should revert to a K-12 finance formula that would result in "significantly higher property taxes and guaranteed litigation."

"We cannot prepare our children for the future by reliving the mistakes of the past," said Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City.

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for the Brownback campaign, said Brownback never said he favored a revised formula that escalated taxes or promoted lawsuits.

Brownback, a U.S. senator from Topeka, has said he wanted the Legislature to rewrite the formula. He hasn't presented a blueprint for developing a new system for distributing aid to school districts, but he pointed to ongoing legal squabbles as evidence the current system was broken.

Seth Bundy, spokesman for Holland, said Brownback linked himself to a discarded formula during an interview in June. He said Brownback applauded "an earlier iteration of school finance in Kansas."

A coalition of 72 Kansas school districts representing 165,000 students is working on a lawsuit challenging the state's K-12 appropriations method. Schools For Fair Funding asserts the Legislature ordered cuts in violation of the Kansas Constitution. In 2006, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the finance system failed to provide equitable funding for children. The Legislature settled the case by raising aid by $755 million. However, lawmakers subsequently cut $303 million.

Holland said if elected governor he would maintain the state's constitutional obligation to equalize opportunities for children while supporting a move to grant local school boards authority to raise additional property tax for schools through the local option budget process. He said Brownback would push for private school vouchers if elected governor. However, Jones-Sontag said Brownback wouldn't support a state voucher program.

"We will stand firm in opposing school vouchers," Holland said. "We cannot make public schools better by taking away their resources and giving them to private institutions where we have no accountability and no control."

Brownback, campaigning Tuesday in Emporia, outlined a dozen reform ideas for K-12 schools and five for higher education.

"Education is to state government what national defense is to the federal government -- its central function," he said.

He proposed expanded mentoring for young teachers, higher salaries for master teachers, development of alternative teacher certification programs and accredited apprenticeship programs in high schools. The state should graduate more engineers, help community colleges and technical schools respond to work force demands, and concentrate on bioscience, polymer, aviation and agriculture research at state universities, he said.

Holland promised to advance job creation with targeted investment in the state's public education system and through expanded work force training.

He proposed using lottery revenue to finance technical training centers and scholarships for students at those facilities. He said money for such initiatives could be found by eliminating ineffective tax exemptions.

"By making similar investments in fields poised for growth -- renewable energy, the biosciences, engineering, health care specialists and new forms of manufacturing -- we will prepare the work force needed to make Kansas attractive to these industries," Holland said.


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