If the two days of hearings last week by the House Appropriations Committee proved anything, it was that cutting the state budget any further is going to be extremely difficult and painful.
Four rounds of budget cuts already implemented this year and the increasing needs of Kansans in this historically bad economy have taken a huge toll, according to those who testified to the committee.
House Republicans, who hold a 76-49 advantage, called the Appropriations meetings in order to prepare for the 2010 session that starts in January. The message from House GOP leaders was that more cuts are needed because the state is looking at a $500 million deficit in the next fiscal year. No tax increases will be considered, they said.
Public schools, which make up half of the state budget, saw themselves in the line of fire.
Until this year, schools have received significant funding increases over the past few years after a Kansas Supreme Court decision found Kansas’ method of funding schools inadequate, unconstitutional and especially hurtful to at-risk students.
This year, however, the clawback began. School districts saw nearly $140 million in budget cuts, as base state aid per pupil was reduced by 4.8 percent from $4,433 to $4,218. Federal stimulus funding has provided relief in some areas, but across the state, districts have made reductions and increased fees.
“The state is not meeting its obligation to our kids and is simply passing the buck for funding schools,” said Connie Owen, an Olathe school district parent.
John Allison, the new superintendent for the Wichita school district, which is the state’s largest with 49,000 students, said his task is to meet higher federal academic standards under No Child Left Behind with children who come to school with greater human needs.
“The standards don’t slow down for a recession,” he said.
Don Jordan, secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services, gave Appropriations members a list of cuts implemented in 34 programs, which included cuts in staff salaries.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz provided the hammer: More cuts to the prison system, and lawmakers may have to look at shutting down a major facility and releasing inmates early. All pretty sobering stuff.
Gov. Mark Parkinson stayed away from the committee’s work, saying he looked forward to its report. But, he said, projections of a $500 million budget deficit were speculative at this point.