The Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — Disagreements about potential cuts in education funding stalled a Senate committee’s work Tuesday on a plan for eliminating a projected $186 million deficit in the state’s current budget.

The Ways and Means Committee must decide how much state aid public schools should lose by June 30 and how those cuts should be distributed among Kansas’ 295 school districts. The debate threatens to revive long-standing tensions between urban and rural legislators and between those representing poor and wealthy districts.

Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ plan to eliminate the shortfall avoids a decrease in overall education funding, though it redistributes dollars among districts. Many Republicans contend her plan would hurt other parts of the budget too much, but the Senate committee’s 10-3 GOP majority is divided about what to do.

The committee has rewritten part of Sebelius’ plan, but it failed Tuesday to take additional action on a bill addressing the deficit. The panel doesn’t expect to resume its discussions until Thursday, scotching Republican leaders’ hopes of having the Senate debate the bill this week.

“The timetable has now slipped a little bit in terms of when the bill is going to be debated,” said committee Chairman Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.

The House Appropriations Committee could begin work Thursday on its own deficit bill, but it might not finish until early next week.

Sebelius proposed targeted cuts and accounting changes to close the gap in the current budget between previously approved spending and anticipated revenues. Republican leaders prefer across-the-board spending cuts, but Sebelius opposes that approach.

The Senate committee rejected some of Sebelius’ accounting changes, forcing it to consider alternatives. Committee members reviewed a proposal Tuesday to cut school aid by $27 million by June 30, costing districts $47 per student in base state aid, as well as money dedicated to other programs, such as special education.

Sen. Janis Lee, of Kensington, said it matters whether cuts in education funding are confined to base state aid, or whether they also hit special programs. She favors cutting just general aid.

“There are significant differences in those two approaches,” she said.

But Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said it’s fairer to cut everything, an approach that’s likely to lessen the relative burden for some suburban school districts, such as Blue Valley in Johnson County.

“It would really be unfair to those school districts to take a bigger percentage cut.”

Lee and Vratil are new to the Ways and Means Committee, but they’re veterans of past school finance debates — and they’ve sparred frequently.

The current budget provides nearly $3.78 billion in aid to Kansas’ public schools, and that aid consumes half of the state’s general tax revenues.

Democrats have worried that GOP leaders will push cuts in education funding through quickly, and they welcomed the delay in committee action.

“It gives us time to be a little more deliberate in the process and make sure that the end product gets us where we need to go, inflicting as little pain as possible,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

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