Topeka Kansas could lose from $21 million to $26 million a year from the federal government if the state doesn’t increase its share of special education funding, officials said Friday.
Legislative Democratic leaders sent a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, asking him to push for restoration of those state funds to avoid the federal penalty.
“This is real serious business,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. “We are going to sound the alarm for Gov. Brownback to show some leadership on this.”
Later Friday, Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag issued a statement saying that the special education funding levels were determined by the previous Legislature. “If the legislative leaders who crafted the (current fiscal year) budget now believe it is inadequate, the governor is willing to work with them on an appropriate response.”
A proposed budget bill that will be debated by the Senate on Monday would provide the required special education funds. Senate leaders sounded adamant about making the appropriation.
“If we don’t take action, we would lose in perpetuity that federal match,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
But House Republicans earlier this week refused to put those funds in the House plan, brushing aside attempts by Democrats.
A memo from State Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis says that the U.S. Department of Education has notified the state that if Kansas fails to meet required “maintenance of effort” of state funding for special education, the state will lose an equal share of federal funding.
“Based on the latest calculations, it will require 21 (million) to 26 million additional dollars to meet the Maintenance of Effort requirements,” Dennis said.
A loss of that much in federal funds would represent one-fourth of the federal funding the state currently receives for special education. The state has already lost $2.2 million in federal special education funding from last year, Dennis said.
Democrats and Senate Republican leaders said the state funds to keep Kansas in compliance could be taken from the state’s ending balance. They also noted that January tax revenues were above projections.
Failure to restore the school funding “would be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Hensley and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said in the letter to Brownback.
Davis and Hensley said schools have already absorbed $241 million in state cuts over the past two years, and any loss of federal special-education funds would just make matters worse.