Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kansas state school funding falling short of legislators’ plan

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Public schools will have less money per student than the Legislature intended when making the recent state budget, unless Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators provide more money when the 2014 legislative session starts next month.

That's because the statewide property tax has produced less than expected and there are more students enrolled than expected, especially at-risk students, who require more funding.

For those reasons, new fiscal estimates show, the state doesn't have enough money to fund schools at the level set in the state budget.

When legislators left earlier this year, the budget set the school finance formula at $3,838 in base state aid per pupil in the current fiscal year, and $3,852 per pupil in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2014.

But a new estimate by the state shows funding will fall $17.8 million short in the current fiscal year, and $19.9 million short in the next.

If the additional funding isn't provided, the base state aid will fall to $3,812 per student in the current year, and $3,823 in the next.

Asked about the funding issue Wednesday, Brownback's spokeswoman Sara Belfry said, "The governor is looking at this closely going into the next legislative session."

In addition to the new funding issue, a lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court could force the Legislature to approve more than $500 million a year in school funding.

A lower court panel has ruled that the state has unconstitutionally cut public school funding while passing tax cuts.

The state appealed, saying the Legislature should be in charge of school funding, not the courts. A decision in the case is expected soon.