Wichita 11:42 a.m. Superintendents from large school districts told lawmakers Tuesday that they continue to try to find savings but that state budget cuts are hurting their ability to serve students.
John Allison, superintendent of the Wichita school district, said he is facing budget cuts while student needs and academic standards have increased. "These standards don't slow down for a recession," he said.
The Wichita district is the state's largest with 49,000 students. Of that population, 70 percent are receiving free or reduced lunch. Allison said Wichita schools educate students from 98 countries speaking 85 languages or dialects.
Several House Appropriations Committee members asked superintendents to continue looking for ways to reduce expenses because of the state's revenue problems.
But Allison said his district sustained a $16 million cut in funding this year. "There aren't enough efficiencies to be able to offset that," he said.
The committee was brought into a two-day meeting to prepare for the 2010 legislative session that starts in January. House Republican leaders said they will not increase taxes in the face of a projected budget deficit of more than $500 million.
9:39 a.m. State education leaders released the following statement this morning in advance of their appearance before the Appropriations Committee. The statement is reproduced below, unedited.
Organizations representing Kansas public school boards, educators and parents believe state funding cuts are eroding the state’s high quality education system.
As Kansas students began returning to class this month, school district representatives say they have tried to maintain the quality of instruction and services helping students succeed. But they say important programs and positions have already been cut, and further funding cuts will affect learning opportunities for all students.
After budget cuts approved by the 2009 Legislature and further allotments by Governor Mark Parkinson, school districts lost $136.5 million for general operations, which reduced the base budget per pupil from $4,433 to $4,218, a reduction of 4.8 percent. The Legislature also eliminated $2 million in state aid for teacher training and incentives.
The Legislature eliminated $25.6 million in matching money for capital outlay funds, which reduced funding for districts with lower property values. Finally, the Legislature cut $4 million from special education funding. Special education services are mandated by state and federal law, and districts face increasing demands in areas like autism, dyslexia and students with emotional and behavioral needs. School officials also expect more serious student health needs this Fall due to the H1N1 flu.
Because of the diversity of Kansas school districts, how districts are responding to these challenges has also varied. To help replace dollars lost from state funding, some school boards have increased local mill levies, shifting the cost from the state to local taxpayers. Other districts are at the legal maximum they can raise locally. In addition to property tax increases, many districts have been forced to raise fees paid by families to maintain services previously funded by state dollars.
In June, districts reported plans to the Kansas State Department of Education to eliminate over 2,000 teaching and administrative positions and 1,600 non-licensed positions to save about $100 million, plus over $67 million in other cost-saving measures. The actual budget changes will not be known until later this fall when the Dept. of Ed. analyzes school district budgets being adopted this month, but districts have reported cutting before, after and summer school programs, teacher professional development, student activities and transportation, and closing school buildings.
Despite those cuts, school expenditures will increase in certain areas. Districts are expected to receive $46 million in federal Title I funds, which must be used for programs assisting disadvantaged students. State contributions for school district employee retirement pensions will increase $20 million. Local mill levies and state matching aid will increase in districts where voters approved bond issues for school construction or remodeling. While these projects have provided construction jobs during the economic recession, this funding is not available for classroom instruction. Districts also face higher utilities and insurance costs.
The consequences of these actions concern both educators and parents. “The reductions in funding from the state have forced my district to make severe cuts, but they have also placed more of the burden for funding schools on local taxpayers, in one of the poorest counties in the state of Kansas,” said Dr. Jill Shackelford, superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. “Any further reductions would force us to make cuts that directly impact our students, their education, and the quality of the opportunities they receive.”
“School fees increased by an average of $30 per student this year and my district will lose at least 200 positions and slash the budgets of many valuable programs,” said Connie Owen, Olathe School District parent. “The state is not meeting its obligation to our kids and is simply passing the buck for funding schools.”
School leaders fear that significant school budget cuts are not over. The Kansas Legislative Research Department currently estimates the state general fund will face a $530 million deficit next year, Fiscal Year 2011. If just half of that were applied to K-12 education, it would double the amount of cuts imposed in the current year, and equal a base budget per pupil reduction of $417 or nearly 10 percent.
In addition, federal stimulus funds expire the following year, FY 2012. Kansas used $138.7 million from federal stabilization funds for general state aid and $57.7 million for special education aid this year, which prevented a further $194.4 million cut in state education funding. Those funds are available next year, but expire in FY 2012, along with $46 million in Title I aid.
Educators say such a loss of state and federal funds would force school districts to dismantle programs put in place over the past decade to increase student achievement and close the “achievement gap” for low income, minority and disabled students. Scores on state academic tests have increased steadily since 2000, and the state’s graduation rate has improved.
Funding cuts will also lead to further district consolidation and the closing of school buildings in rural communities and city neighborhoods, as well as larger class sizes, less student transportation, higher fees and fewer student activities.
“If districts have to absorb the cuts that are now possible, there will be fewer school districts, fewer school buildings, fewer educators, and fewer programs and services for students,” said Mark Tallman, assistant executive director/advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “It will harm student achievement, economic development and the quality of life across Kansas.”
The Kansas State Board of Education voted in July to request an additional $280 million for Fiscal Year 2011 to fund the school finance system as provided by current law, with no enhancements. Even that level remains significantly below the amount the Kansas Legislative Post Audit Division said is required to meet state academic outcome requirements.
9:37 a.m. It's Day 2 of the House Appropriations Committee meetings on state budget problems, and today was to dedicated to school funding, and problems with the state unemployment trust fund and public employees retirement system.
This year, state leaders have already cut the budget four times, and financial experts project further deficits of several hundred million dollars because of the struggling economy.
House Republican leaders have vowed to balance the budget without a tax increase.
This puts schools on defense. Making up about one-half of the state budget, school officials fear that more cuts will fall on them.
"If districts have to absorb the cuts that are now possible, there will be fewer school districts, fewer school buildings, fewer educators, and fewer programs and services for students," said Mark Tallman, with the Kansas Association of School Boards.
"It will harm student achievement, economic development and the quality of life across Kansas," he said.
But some legislators say efficiencies are possible in the school system.
Over the past year, school districts have been cut $136.5 million, a 4.8 percent reduction in base per pupil spending.