19 Jul School Funding Cuts Ignore Law (KS)July 19, 2010
By: Scott RothschildSource: Lawrence Journal-World
The school finance crisis in Kansas continues with no end in sight, and attempts to fix it have been temporary at best.
State Board of Education members last week recommended a $471 million increase to public schools.
That would amount to a 15 percent increase over current spending, and would “fund the law” that Kansas lawmakers approved before massive cuts were made in the state budget.
“I don’t know how we can say the law doesn’t matter,” said board member Sue Storm, a Democrat from Overland Park. “That doesn’t make sense.”
But unless the economy bounces back like a SuperBall, such a funding increase would also require a tax increase. That would seem unlikely since the Legislature, by a narrow margin this year, approved a 1 cent increase in the state sales tax, which took effect July 1.
“Part of me says we need to live within our means,” said board member John Bacon, a Republican from Olathe.
The tax increase was only designed to stop the cuts in schools, which take up about half the state budget.
More funding problems are on the horizon.
The current fiscal year budget is delicately balanced wi th almost no room for error. Further shortfalls in tax receipts could result in midyear budget cuts.
The budget includes more than $250 million in federal stimulus funding that will expire in the next fiscal year.
And the sales tax increase is temporary, most of it expiring on July 1, 2013, with the leftover increase going to highway funding.
Throw in inflation — while low, it still exists — employees seeking better wages, and the pressure for schools to get better, and schools face a daunting challenge, said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards.
“Despite the economic recession and budget cuts, public schools continue to be asked to do more, not less,” Tallman said.
In addition, there is litigation brewing that alleges recent cuts in education, totaling more than $300 million over the past 16 months, are unconstitutional.
Cheryl Semmel, executive director of United School Administration of Kansas, said she wanted the State Board of Education to advocate for “the educational needs of students, not political expediency.”
But board member Kathy Martin, a Republican from Clay Center, said legislators are politicians with many interests tugging at them.
“I’m all for funding the law, but perhaps that’s not realistic. The Legislature is faced with a real dilemma,” she said.