Wednesday, July 10, 2013

State education board seeks $656 million funding increase

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, Kan. ---- The Kansas State Board of Education voted today to seek an estimated $656 million funding increase for fiscal year 2015, which begins next July.

Department of Education officials said that represents the difference between the budget that Kansas lawmakers have already approved for next year, and what is otherwise required to be spent under various formulas currently in state law.

“I believe that if there's a statute on the books, it should be funded,” said board member Sally Cauble, a Republican from Liberal.

The 7-3 vote was seen as largely symbolic because it is unlikely to influence Gov. Sam Brownback or the conservative-controlled legislature, which has focused the last two years on cutting income taxes and reducing state spending.

“I would love to see us get to where we can spend this kind of money on schools, but I don't think we can do it in one fell swoop,” Republican board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson said. “I'm reluctant to vote for this because it represents a humongous tax increase.”

Kansas lawmakers this year passed a two-year budget that appropriates money for both the current fiscal year that ends June 30, 2014, as well as the following year that begins next July 1.

But Brownback still has authority to request changes to next year's budget, and so state agencies like the Department of Education are going through their normal process of submitting budget requests to the administration.

Most of the money the state board is seeking — about $443 million — would come from raising the base funding formula to the statutory amount of $4,492 per pupil.

Currently, the state is spending only $3,838 per pupil. That is scheduled to go up next year by $14, to $3,852.

Another $113 million would come from fully funding the subsidy the state pays to help fund the local option budgets of less wealthy districts.

The board's request also includes about $72 million for full funding of state aid for special education, and $25 million to fully fund a program that subsidizes the capital outlay budgets of less wealthy districts.

The Lawrence school district does not qualify for either the local option budget or capital outlay subsidies.

Other programs included in the board's request that are spelled out in statute include the Parents as Teachers program, school lunch subsidies and professional development for teachers.

But the governor and legislature are no longer the only people deciding next year's budget, especially when it comes to education funding.

In January, a three-judge panel ruled in a school finance lawsuit that current funding levels violate the Kansas Constitution's requirement that the legislature make “suitable provision” for financing public schools. The judges ordered the legislature to increase funding by an estimated $515 million, based largely on many of the same statutory requirements.

That case is now on appeal before the Kansas Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in October. A ruling is expected around the first of the year, about the same time the legislature begins its 2014 session.