Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Report says schools underfunded $657 million in FY 2015

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The two-year budget that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Saturday under-funds Kansas public schools by an estimated $657 million in the second year, according to an analysis by the Kansas State Department of Education.

That's the difference between how much the legislature approved in various categories of K-12 education spending for fiscal year 2015 and how much is supposed to be spent according to formulas outlined in current law.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis was scheduled to brief the Kansas State Board of Education about the budget last week, but his report had to be postponed due to the extended time the board spent hearing public comments about the Common Core reading and math standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

But his written report to the state board was included in the board's agenda packet.

"You will note that the Fiscal Year 2015 budget has already been adopted; however, the State Board of Education may submit additional requests above the amount approved by the Legislature and Governor,” Dennis wrote in a memo to the board.

The report puts into perspective one of the key questions that the Kansas Supreme Court will be asked to resolve later this year when it hears an appeal in the current school finance lawsuit, Gannon vs. Kansas.

“That's not far off from what the Gannon trial court ordered,” said John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, referring to the report Dennis sent the board.

In January, a three-judge panel that presided over the trial in that case ruled that the legislature had failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for public schools, and it ordered the legislature to increase funding in several categories.

Attorneys for the state, however, have argued that the cuts enacted in recent years were necessary because of the downturn in the economy, and that the funding levels are still sufficient for schools to provide all the services required by law.

According to the report Dennis prepared for the state board, the biggest part of the shortfalls are in the following areas:
  • Base state aid: $433.3 million. That's the additional amount it would take to fund the base formula at $4,492 per pupil, the amount required under current law, compared to the estimated $3,852 per pupil approved in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
  • Local option budget equalization: $113 million. That's money the state provides to subsidize the local option budgets of less wealthy districts so they don't have to impose significantly higher property taxes to raise the same amount of money as a wealthier district. The fiscal year 2015 budget only provides about 75 percent of the money needed to fully fund the equalization formula in current law, so districts that qualify for the aid receive a pro-rated amount.
  • Special education: $72.2 million. Current law says the state is supposed to fund 92 percent of the “excess costs” associated with special education. The 2015 budget provides $427.7 million, which is only 78.7 percent of the excess costs.
  • Capital outlay equalization: $25.2 million. That's money the state spends to subsidize the capital outlay budgets of poorer districts. Capital outlay expenses are typically big-ticket purchases such as computers, heating and air conditioning equipment, building repairs and other capital purchases not funded with bond proceeds. The legislature has not funded any capital outlay equalization since 2010, which the Gannon court ruled unconstitutional.
Dennis outlined other shortfalls in smaller categories such as professional development, school lunches, the mentor teacher program and pre-kindergarten pilot programs.

State board chairwoman Jana Shaver, an Independence Republican, said she could not predict whether the board would vote to seek additional money from the legislature or wait to see how the Supreme Court rules in the Gannon case.

“All I know is we have been asked for several years to do more with less, and we've about reached the point where we're going to have to do less with less,” she said.