Government & Politics

Kansas’ support to school districts will be cut $127.4 million, Education Department says

Gov. Sam Brownback last year visited Roesland Elementary School in Roeland Park, Kan.
Gov. Sam Brownback last year visited Roesland Elementary School in Roeland Park, Kan. The Kansas City Star

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget cuts about $127.4 million from state support to local school districts, according to a report released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

Some Senate Republican leaders dispute that the cut is that deep, saying the Education Department figure doesn’t account for spending on bonds and interest for school construction or payments to the state retirement fund.

The governor’s plan, released Friday, is to roll four major categories of spending into block grants to school districts. The block grants will include the money now spent in general state aid, supplemental state aid, capital outlay aid and the school district finance fund.

This year’s budget for those categories is almost $3.14 billion. The block grants proposed by the governor would total slightly more than $3 billion.

The actual amount of the cut proposed is $127,399,537, according to the Education Department figures.

Senate Republicans don’t dispute that number. It’s exactly the same as what they got on their own spreadsheet distributed at a Republican Senate caucus meeting Tuesday.

GOP senators say it only tells part of the school spending story.

“They don’t even add up the rest of what we spend,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “The real cut, if you’re going to call it a cut, is $22 million.”

The Republicans count as education funding increased money for pensions, $90.6 million; bond and interest payments on construction of school buildings, $8 million; and increased funds to qualify for federal aid for special education, $6.5 million.

By their reckoning, that reduces the overall cut to education to about $22.5 million.

The cuts would take effect beginning July 1 with the start of the state’s fiscal year.

Some of the increase in KPERS for next year is actually money that the state initially intended to spend this fiscal year, before Brownback made midyear budget cuts to fill a $279 million budget hole.

The new budget shows an increase in KPERS payments next year of $90.6 million. But $40.7 million of that is the make-up payment for this year’s cut.

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of education, said the $127 million plus in cuts identified in the Education Department report represents money that goes to fund classroom education on a yearly basis, which is why the department separated those items from the other spending lines.

The pension and bond and interest payments are for long-term expenditures and the special-education funding is required to show the federal government “maintenance of effort” when it comes to educating children with disabilities. Maintenance of effort ensures states don’t cut their own special-education funding when they get federal grants to improve their programs.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear how the pool of block grants will be divided among the state’s school districts.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last year that the Legislature has to provide funding that is adequate and equitable to ensure that all children get a decent shot at a good education.

At the Tuesday Republican caucus meeting, Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, questioned how the split of school money will be decided.

“Has anybody talked to the governor’s office about how they’re going to devise that plan? Because it just says block grant,” McGinn said.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, replied that the governor’s office would be submitting a bill, which would work as a starting point.

“We tried the block grant — what? — four years ago and it didn’t get very far,” McGinn said after the meeting. “And part of that was that we didn’t get information on how it would be distributed. So my hope is that instead of waiting until the final hours of the Legislature when the block grant is decided that we’ll have an opportunity to weigh in on that.”

Wagle said the block grants would be based on current levels of funding but that until she saw the governor’s bill she could not say specifically what each district would receive.

“We’re going to wait and look at the bill,” Wagle said.