Topeka The State Board of Education on Wednesday recommended a $282 million increase to public schools to make up for a wave of budget cuts and comply with state laws designed to provide regular funding hikes.
“We are advocating for the future,” said Education Board Chairwoman Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan. “The future is sitting in those classrooms.”
The proposal would increase base state aid from $4,218 per pupil to $4,492 per pupil, a 6.5 percent increase.
Several board members voiced concerns about asking for such an increase during the recession.
Kathy Martin, a Republican from Clay Center, suggested that the board pick a smaller increase to show support for taxpayers who are going through tough economic times.
But Sue Storm, a Democrat from Overland Park, said the board should act on behalf of schoolchildren. “We need to be responsible, but we need to be advocates,” Storm said. A former legislator, Storm said it was up to the Legislature to figure out where to get the money.
At the end of the discussion, only Walt Chappell, a Democrat from Wichita, voted against the proposal, saying the board did not have enough information to make a decision.
The recommendation will go to Gov. Mark Parkinson’s budget office for consideration.
Parkinson this month cut schools 2 percent, or $39 million, as part of $160 million in adjustments to balance the current fiscal year budget.
That is on top of cuts implemented by the Legislature and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as state revenues have fallen throughout the year.
When the year started, base state aid was $4,433 per pupil, and was set to increase for the upcoming school year to as much as $4,597 per pupil under previously passed laws, which included a cost of living increase.
But after all the cutting was done, the school year will start with base state aid at $4,218 per pupil. Promised increases in special education and other areas have also been slashed. The cuts would have been worse without the infusion of federal stimulus funds.
Many of these promised increases were put into law after a bitterly contested lawsuit in which the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to increase school funding.
Martin said she would not want school funding levels to fall so low to invite another lawsuit.
Board member David Dennis, a Republican from Wichita, said the request was not “pie in the sky” but necessary to produce an educated workforce in Kansas.
Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said in response to budget cuts this year, school districts statewide have cut 3,700 positions and reduced other expenses to save $167.2 million.
Dennis said superintendents statewide have told him about having to let go of staff who were directly helping students. “I’ve never seen administrators any more emotional than I’ve seen recently,” he said.
The final decision on school funding will be reached by the Legislature and Parkinson in the 2010 legislative session, which starts in January.
Parkinson’s spokeswoman Beth Martino said the governor understood the budget situation was tough for “everyone involved, including schools.” She said Parkinson will consider all available options when putting together a budget proposal this fall, “but it is too soon to make any assumptions.”