Government & Politics

Brownback to cut education by $44.5 million amid budget shortfall

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback during the 2015 State of the State address in Topeka
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback during the 2015 State of the State address in Topeka

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has announced additional budget cuts — including cuts to public schools and higher education — to help keep the state solvent through the current fiscal year, which ends in June.

The House passed a budget fix bill this week, but after the state missed revenue expectations for the month of January that bill was still expected to fall short of closing the state’s budget hole by $800,000. Just minutes before the Kansas Senate assembled to consider the bill, the governor announced a new round of automatic cuts, known as allotments.

The governor will cut the state’s universities by 2 percent and cut K-12 education by 1.5 percent, for a combined savings of $44.5 million. The cuts will go into effect on March 7.

Andy Schlapp, the lobbyist for Wichita State University, said the university would lose about $1.5 million. “It’s a setback, but not the end of the world,” Schlapp said.

He said WSU is committed to moving forward with its plan to create an innovation campus that connects students and the technology sector.

“We understand the difficulties of the budget. We took a cut today. We get it. It’s unfortunate,” Schlapp said. “But we’re more than ever committed to that process, the innovation campus, growing the Kansas economy and having a work force that can compete globally, so we’re going to continue on that path.”

Brownback’s release noted that even after the cut, funding for higher education would be $20 million more this year than last. Funding for K-12 education would still be $177 million higher than last year, in large part because of a Supreme Court ruling that called for the state to put more money into schools.

Brownback called for the Legislature to reform the two areas in the school finance formula addressed in last year’s court ruling, local option and capital outlay funding. The Legislature passed a bill last year meant to close gaps between districts in these areas; that bill was estimated to cost about $130 million but ended up costing about $190 million.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, has a bill that would reduce the state aid from last year’s bill by nearly $40 million for the current year by recalculating the way it is distributed. Brownback all but endorsed that bill in his release.

“I am calling on the legislature to reform equalization factors in the current school finance formula over the next 30 days to stall the increase of $54 million in Local Option Budget State Aid and Capital Outlay State Aid spending that was not appropriated by the Legislature in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget bill. By reforming the equalization factors, the legislature could, and should, restore the 1.5 percent allotment.”

Brownback highlighted recent news reports about a $48,000 grand piano purchased by a Kansas City, Kan., high school as proof of the flaws of the school finance formula.

“The dramatic increase in state education funding that has occurred over the last four years is unsustainable,” Brownback said. “School districts are estimated to have approximately $381 million in reserve fund balances to help them offset the smaller than expected increase in state funding. The Kansas Department of Education should work with school districts to help them with any cash flow challenges that may arise.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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