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Kan. education budgets advance in committee

John Milburn, Associated Press

Kansas state Sens. Larry Powell, left, of Garden City; Steve Fitzgerald, center, of Leavenworth, and Michael O'Donnell, right, of Wichita, all Republicans, talk before a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Monday Feb. 18, 2013, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The committee has endorsed spending recommendations for higher education that deny the University of Kansas Medical Center $10 million for an expansion. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Slight increases in per-student spending in fiscal year 2015 were included in Kansas public school budgets that advanced Monday.

Following a recommendation made by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, the House Appropriations Committee approved spending $3.8 billion on K-12, 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.

Spending proposal work 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, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the House committee's action on school spending 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 Medical Center 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.

The university argues that the expansion will allow the Medical Center 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 past decade, tuition at the University of Kansas has risen more quickly than it has at other state universities, while its student population has increased over the past five years.

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