Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback, who promised to protect public schools during his campaign for office, has proposed a budget that would cut school funding this year and next year.
“The economic stagnation has put state revenue into a decline for a fourth year in a row and required me to make difficult decisions in order to maintain the most essential programs of the state at acceptable levels of funding,” said Brownback, a Republican who was sworn into office this week.
Democrats blasted Brownback’s plan. In a joint statement Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said, “The budget proposal he presented today will force school boards all across Kansas to close schools, lay off teachers and increase class sizes.”
Brownback’s policy director Landon Fulmer delivered the proposed spending plan to legislators. “The fact of the matter is, we just don’t have the money,” Fulmer told the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Fulmer introduced legislation to carry out the cuts.
The Legislature will now work on the budget recommendations.
The state faces an estimated $550 million revenue shortfall, primarily because of expiring federal stimulus funds, much of which have been used to prop up school funding.
But with those federal dollars disappearing next year, Brownback has decided not to replace them with state funds.
He has proposed cutting base state aid from $4,012 per student to $3,780 per student, a drop of $232 per student or 5.8 percent. If approved by the Legislature, base state aid would be at its lowest level since 1999-2000.
“That’s going to translate into a lot of teachers losing their jobs,” said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.
Although base state aid will decrease, total state funding for school districts will increase $129 million, Brownback’s administration said. But that figure includes funding to cover obligations for retirement, special education and debt payments on capital projects.
School finance experts say the base state aid figure is the one that shows true spending in the classroom because that is the money that goes to teachers’ salaries.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if these proposed reductions actually occur, our public education system in Kansas will be of lesser quality,” Vratil said.
In the Lawrence school district, officials said the system would have to cut from between $1.2 million and $1.9 million from the budget in the current school year, and an additional $2.5 million next year. That is on top of cuts of $7 million over the last two years.
“The cuts are deep,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. He said they will result in fewer teachers and larger classroom sizes.
Brownback’s budget would also cut the Early Childhood Head Start Program by $3.5 million and grants to community mental health centers by $10 million. It would also cut the state’s Public Broadcasting grant of $1.6 million.
The budget includes a $5 million appropriation to the Kansas University Medical Center for cancer research, but requires a $5 million match from KU.
The budget also proposes eliminating 2,000 unfilled positions and several agency eliminations and reorganizations.
Some of the budget recommendations include:
• Eliminating state funding of the Kansas Arts Commission.
• Consolidating the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC) into the Kansas Department of Commerce.
• Merging the Kansas Health Policy Authority into the Division of Health of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
• Abolishing the Kansas Parole Board and transferring those duties to the Department of Corrections.
• Merging the Animal Health Department, State Conservation Commission and Agriculture Marketing Program into the Department of Agriculture.
• Moving the Travel and Tourism Program out of the Department of Commerce and into the Department of Wildlife and Parks.
• Abolishing Kansas Inc., an economic development agency.
• Shutting down the state hospital for developmentally disabled Kansans by 2014. The Kansas Neurological Institute is located in Topeka.