Wednesday, July 11, 2012

State Board of Education recommends $440 million increase in base state aid to schools

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — The State Board of Education on Tuesday recommended a $440 million increase in base state aid to school districts.

Supporters of the proposal said the increase is needed to maintain good schools and make up for years of recession-era cuts.

Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, said funding education was an investment in the future of the state.

"Our role is to be advocates for students," Waugh said. "We need to recommend to the Legislature what we believe is best for our students," she said.

But critics said the proposal would be dismissed out of hand as too much.

"That is not realistic," said Walt Chappell, a Republican from Wichita. "It will never fly. It will have no credibility," Chappell said.

The funding request was approved on a 7-2 vote with Chappell and Republican Kathy Martin of Clay Center opposed.

The recommendation will go to Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature for consideration in the 2013 legislative session, which starts in January.

Base state aid per pupil has been slashed in recent years as the state grappled with an historic revenue plunge.

Currently, base state aid is $3,838 per pupil, down from a high of $4,438 per pupil in 2008-09. Under state law, base state aid is supposed to be $4,492 per pupil, but budget cuts have decimated that notion. A lawsuit filed by numerous school districts seeks to re-instate those cuts. The board-approved increase would get base state aid up to that $4,492 per pupil level.

Board Chairman David Dennis, a Republican from Wichita, said he dispatched fellow board member Kenneth Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, to talk with Brownback and get the governor's input on school funding.

Willard said he didn't get any clear direction from the governor's office. Willard cited budget uncertainties, including the school finance lawsuit and implementing federal heath reform, as factors that would make it difficult to provide a specific funding recommendation.

But Dennis said the school finance lawsuit shouldn't effect the board's decision since it will be more than a year before the case is settled by the Kansas Supreme Court.

In addition, the school board identified other funding priorities, including maintaining required funding for special education, and increases for teachers' professional development, mentoring and other programs.