Friday, December 13, 2013

Sen. Hensley expects Gov. Brownback to make supplemental budget request to fill in school shortfall

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday declined to say whether he would make a supplemental budget request to fill a nearly $38 million shortfall in public school funding.

"We'll be announcing budgets in a timely fashion," Brownback said. The 2014 legislative session starts in January.

But Brownback did say that school funding, Medicaid and pensions will be parts of his proposed budget that will "stick out as the growth area."

In the 2013 legislative session, Republicans passed a budget that set the school finance formula at $3,838 in base state aid per pupil in the current fiscal year and at $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 to $3,823 in the next.

That size of a reduction in the Lawrence school district would mean the loss of $456,645, or the equivalent of the cost of eight teachers, although officials cited no specific plan to bridge such a shortfall if it were to occur.

"All I can say is that at this point I don't think its productive to speculate," said Lawrence School Board President Rick Ingram.

"It is too early and there is too little information to make any kind of decisions or even think about how we would handle this. If it looks likely that we will get a cut, then the board will sit down and figure this out," Ingram said.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka met with the Republican governor on Wednesday to discuss school finance issues.

"The governor told me yesterday he is going to recommend an increase in the base state aid per pupil. I'm assuming that the ball is in his court and that he will address this issue with a supplemental, plus an increase in the base state aid," Hensley said.

But Hensley said that "hanging over this whole process" are the income tax cuts signed into law by Brownback and the pending school finance lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court.

The state has appealed a lower court panel ruling that said legislators unconstitutionally cut school funding while passing mammoth tax cuts. The decision could force the state to increase school funding $500 million per year.

— Reporter Peter Hancock contributed to this story.