Archive for Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kansas budget plan draws fire over school funding

March 13, 2012


— A proposed $14 billion state budget being considered in the Kansas House drew bipartisan criticism Tuesday because it would withhold some education funds and push school districts to tap their cash reserves first.

Republicans who pushed the spending plan through the House Appropriations Committee defended it as a responsible budget that sticks closely to most recommendations from GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. The measure would reduce the state’s overall spending by about 4 percent, or roughly $650 million, during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But the committee made several significant changes to Brownback’s proposals before endorsing a bill containing the budget Monday night. It eliminated $29 million in new dollars for the state’s 286 school districts to cover higher-than-expected costs during the current school year, forcing districts to absorb those costs and encouraging them to dip into their reserves.

“They’ve put money back for cash-flow purposes and projects they see in the future, and they’ve tried to save for that, and we’ve said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” said Rep. Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat who serves on the committee. “It’s a shame.”

The House is expected to debate the proposed budget Friday. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is drafting its own spending plan and could vote on it Friday. The final version of the budget will be drafted by negotiators for the two chambers.

The state commits more than $3 billion of its tax dollars, roughly half the total, to aid to public schools, but lawmakers cut base aid per pupil last year by almost 6 percent to help balance the budget, dropping it to $3,780 per student. Brownback proposes no further cut in the figure for the next fiscal year, but districts have seen both higher enrollments and more students in programs for children at risk of failing.

But many Republican legislators, particularly Brownback’s fellow conservatives, are frustrated with criticism from educators over cuts in state aid because school districts’ cash reserves have grown. As of July 2011, those reserves were more than $1.7 billion, or 38 percent higher than five years before.

“We’re trying to encourage the school districts to use what they have,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican.

Educators and legislators disagree about how much of the districts’ reserves are available for daily operating expenses.

For example, the State Department of Education doesn’t count money set aside to make bond payments, purchase equipment or provide health coverage, or most special education dollars in reserve. Taking those dollars out of the mix drops the figure of available reserves by nearly two-thirds, to $633 million.

Rep. Joann Pottorff, a Wichita Republican, said the budget assumes districts like hers, the state’s largest, can avoid cutting programs by tapping reserves that are set aside for specific purposes.

“That’s somebody’s theory — not my theory,” she said.

The House committee also altered Brownback’s proposals to remove money for longevity bonuses for state workers, which would force agencies to absorb the costs and, Rhoades said, push them to become more efficient. The committee also added a provision saying that 90 percent of the state jobs open for four months or more at the end of June would be eliminated.


Paul R Getto 5 years, 10 months ago

This one is going to take a while to settle out. You can only eat your seed corn once, then you starve in another winter or two. The amount of reserves varies widely and this approach will not cure the fundamental structural problems in the school finance formula and the overall state budget.

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 10 months ago

The problem is that the GOP has the strange notion that government is an evil monster. Their approach is to try to starve that monster to a slow death. Government, however, is a necessary part of our society. Our founding fathers figured that out when the articles of confederation failed. That is why we have a robust federal government structure that reserves for the states many powers. Providing for public education, higher education, highways, environmental protection and a social safety net are functions for the state. Sadly, our governor and legislature would prefer Kansas become a 3rd world nation where there cronies can rape the environment, rescind the rights of women and minorities, and steal all the money for themselves. Cronyism at it's worst. Down with the tyranny of the GOP and it's Taliban policies! Anyone who votes republican this year is a fool. What's the matter with Kansas?

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 10 months ago

Btw, sex isnt dirty, corporations are not people, the earth isn't flat, NASA did land on the moon, there is global warming and the GOP is filled with monkeys proving darwins theory of evolution!

I thought some of the monkeys out there might need a chance to catch up...

tolawdjk 5 years, 10 months ago

Woah, woah woah there. That is a lot of truth to throw out there at once. Some of these folks are just coming to grips with movable type and gaslights. Yer heart is in the right place, but your pace is all wrong. I know a quick pull of the bandaid is best, but this kind of shock could kill some of them with delicate constitutions!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education

Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization.

By Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead, Phi Delta Kappan Article Tools

A legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had introduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each state’s collective bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.

What was going on? How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?

The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Its self-described legislative approach to education reads:

Across the country for the past two decades, education reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at different times in different places. As a result, teachers’ unions have been playing something akin to “whack-a-mole”—you know the game—striking down as many education reform efforts as possible.

Many times, the unions successfully “whack” the “mole,” i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce comprehensive reform packages. (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 108)

ALEC’s own “whack-a-mole” strategy also reveals the group’s ultimate goal. Every gardener who has ever had to deal with a mole knows that the animals undermine and ultimately destroy a garden. ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.

What is ALEC?

raingarden 5 years, 10 months ago

KS school districts have $1.7 BILLION in reserves/unencumbered funds? And they're whining about having to use it? This is taxpayer money! They'd better use it before they ask for a dime more from the taxpayers.

Kansas school district spending (especially the larger ones) has outpaced the growth of enrollments in the past decade by a wide margin. The administrations of these districts have mushroomed while teaching and classroom resources (the money devoted to actual teaching and student outcomes) have not. Good for the legislature for requiring that these districts take money out of their $1.7 BILLION savings account -- let's hope they use it to improve academic outcomes, not pad administrators' salaries (by the way -- school employees' KPERS pensions are not even included in school budgets -- we pay for that separately!). Thanks to the legislators for being good stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars.

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