Friday, September 13, 2013

Report: State funding cuts to public schools in Kansas are fourth deepest in the nation

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — State funding of public schools in Kansas has decreased more than in all but three other states since the recession, according to areport released Thursday.

Between fiscal year 2008 and now, state school funding in Kansas, adjusted for inflation, decreased 16.5 percent, according to the report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think-tank.

That is the fourth largest decrease in the nation, surpassed only by Arizona, 17.2 percent; Alabama, 20.1 percent and Oklahoma, 22.8 percent.

“At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern,” the report said.

The report found at least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.

The report analyzed states’ major education funding formulas and didn’t include local property tax revenue or federal funding. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has been described by some journalists as being left of center.

School finance has been front and center in the Statehouse for years and is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit.

A three-judge panel has ruled that the Legislature has failed to live up to its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools and ordered an increase of more than $500 million.

The case has been appealed by the state to the Kansas Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in October and is expected to rule by the end of the year.

In 2005 and 2006, the state Supreme Court ordered increases in school funding. The Legislature adopted a three-year funding plan but then started to cut those dollars when the Great Recession started under Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson.

Gov. Sam Brownback oversaw more cuts in base state aid, but when state revenues started to rebound he emphasized income tax cuts instead of restoring school funding.

Brownback has said the tax cuts will boost the economy, while his critics have said the cuts will starve government services, such as education.

Base state aid has been cut from $4,400 per student in 2008-09 to a low of $3,780 per student in 2011. It has since been increased to $3,838 per student, but remains lower than base state aid from 2001-02.

Brownback’s office responded to the report, saying that Brownback “has never cut state funding for education.

“Since his election in 2010 state funding on K-12 education has increased by more than $200 million. The reduction in base state aid per pupil that occurred in 2011 was the result of federal ARRA (stimulus) money expiring,” Brownback’s office said. The stimulus funding was intended to offset state budget cuts during the worst part of the recession.

In his calculations, Brownback includes some items, such as teacher pension payments made by the state, that aren’t figured in other calculations of school funding.

The Kansas Center for Economic Growth said lower school funding will hurt the state’s economic recovery.

“Good schools and an educated workforce foster economic growth, and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by reducing our investment in our schools and students,” said Annie McKay, the group’s executive director.

The center, which formed earlier this year, describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts research and analysis to promote balanced state policies that help ensure all Kansans prosper.

“These cuts have undermined our ability to educate Kansas’ children and there will be consequences for Kansas’ economy,” McKay said.