State revenues short $33M in December
Topeka (ap) - State officials received some bad financial news just before the start of the 2008 legislative session.
Revenue collections for December fell $33.3 million short of expectations, according to a report released Tuesday by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
The department's report said legislators and others should be careful not to read too much into a single month's revenue collections, but Senate President Steve Morris acknowledged, "That's not particularly good news."
The state expected to collect about $571 million in general revenues during the month, but took in only $538 million. It was more than enough to erase the small surplus the state had collected from July 1, when the 2008 fiscal year began, through November.
Topeka — Three key state senators Tuesday offered public schools another locked-in year of funding, but education advocates said the proposed $65 million increase was too little.
"By any measure, we don't believe this increase will be adequate; however, we do appreciate the effort to try, during a tight budget situation, to provide some stability," said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.
But Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said, "The tradeoff is certainty versus more or less rolling the dice."
Here is the situation: Next school year will be the last of a three-year finance package that was crafted by state officials to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that called for more school funding.
When lawmakers start the 2008 legislative session on Monday they will debate whether to add another year of funding to that package and place it in a "lock-box" so that schools can plan ahead.
Schmidt said the $65 million that he and Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, and Senate Education Chairwoman Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, have is a reasonable compromise between lawmakers who want to spend more and lawmakers who want to spend less.
The $65 million increase for the 2009-10 school year would equate to a 2.2 percent increase, which would keep pace with inflation, he said. It would add $59 to base state aid per pupil. It wouldn't require a tax increase because of greater than expected growth in tax revenues, Schmidt said.
But Tallman, with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said keeping up with the inflation rate will accomplish little.
In order to address a teacher shortage, the state needs to increase funding to raise teacher salaries, Tallman said. Currently, Kansas ranks 38th in average teacher pay at $39,351 per year compared with the national average of $47,602.
And, he said, more funding is needed in order to meet the academic goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The State Board of Education has endorsed a plan calling for an additional $50 million for the next school year, on top of the $122 million increase already scheduled. These additional funds would go toward teacher salaries and phasing in full-day kindergarten. Then in 2009-10, schools would get an additional
$144 million increase under the education board recommendation. That is more than twice the $65 million proposal.
State legislative leaders have given the Education Board's recommendations a cool reception.
Lawrence schools Superintendent Randy Weseman said he appreciated Schmidt, Vratil and Schodorf making a proposal to lock in an additional year of funding.
"We need dollars for teacher salaries. That's one of our struggles and I think the state understands that," Weseman said.
He said if schools know two years in advance how much they are going to get then they can plan better.
But, Weseman said, he wasn't sure whether the level of funding under the Schmidt-Vratil-Schodorf plan would be adequate.
"It's probably a good start in terms of discussion," he said.