Topeka Republican legislative leaders Wednesday said public school funding could be cut without harming classroom instruction.
“To the extent that the schools are saying we can’t suffer any cuts in the current fiscal year, I don’t think is correct factually,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson. “I think they (cuts) can be made, and I think they can be made without impacting instructional dollars.”
Republicans, who dominate the Legislature, expressed dissatisfaction with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget proposal, which holds public school funding at current levels while making cuts in other areas to meet a growing fiscal crisis.
O’Neal said a better approach would be to enact an across-the-board cut.
“The quickest way you fill a hole is do it across the board to get to the number that you need and then work from that point forward,” O’Neal said.
Public schools are a big target in budget negotiations because they comprise 52 percent of the state budget at $3.8 billion.
Because of falling tax revenue projections, lawmakers are looking at an immediate budget deficit of approximately $186 million, which could increase to nearly $1 billion in the next fiscal year that starts July 1.
But House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said an across-the-board budget cut would be “a tremendous mistake.”
He said such a move would result in Kansans with disabilities who are currently receiving state assistance getting kicked off those services.
And Davis defended Sebelius’ position to try to hold public schools harmless.
“We have made a tremendous investment in our schools and have seen that investment pay off as test scores are going up,” he said.
But O’Neal said the budget situation has gotten too dire and will need significant cuts.
“Our priority for how we deal with these cuts is fundamentally different than the governor’s priorities,” he said.