Kansas schools facing $50 million budget shortfall

Further cuts could be required if federal money is not replaced

? Education officials on Tuesday said more budget cuts are possible this school year because of the state’s continued fiscal problems, and even deeper cuts could follow that because of the loss of federal stimulus dollars.

“School district leaders have been presented with impossible choices,” said John Heim, executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards. “They have had to cut staff while saving for an uncertain future.”

The immediate problem is a $50 million shortfall in the current school budget brought on by lower statewide property tax valuations, an increase in students receiving free lunch and a larger student population, the KASB reported.

Unless the 2011 Legislature makes up the difference, that could cause a $75 drop in the base state aid, which now stands at $4,012 per student.

But bigger cuts could be on the way because schools currently are receiving $200 million in federal stimulus funds that expire this school year.

If those funds aren’t replaced with state funds, then schools will face an additional cut of $300 per student, which would mean reductions in education employees.

The Kansas Department of Education reported that last year, school districts reduced certified personnel, including teachers, by 816 positions, or 2 percent; and noncertified staff by 844 positions, or 3 percent.

Gov.-elect Sam Brownback has vowed to institute a freeze on the total of state spending when he takes office in January.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said, “We are very concerned about that. If the governor-elect wants to freeze state general revenue funds … that doesn’t include money to replace the stimulus dollars.”

The state’s historic drop in tax revenue over the past two years has already produced several rounds of funding cuts. A coalition of school districts last week filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging the Legislature was violating the Kansas Constitution by making cuts of more than $300 million to schools.