Topeka Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll said Thursday he is thankful the Legislature approved an increase in school funding but "scared to death" about what the tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback will do to school budgets in future years.
"We'll probably be back in a cut mode in a couple of years," Doll said. "We've been through that cut mode before, and it's really hard on the community, it's damaging to morale, and it's not good for kids," he said.
In the budget approved by legislators earlier this week, public schools would receive an increase of approximately $40 million for the next school year. The measure is now before Brownback for his consideration.
That increase would raise base state aid from $3,780 per student to $3,838 per student, an increase of $58 per student. That level remains far below the $4,400 per student in 2008-09 and below the base state aid level of $3,870 per student of a decade ago in 2001-02.
In recent years, schools have sustained several rounds of cuts as the state weathered historic drops in revenue during the recession.
For the Lawrence school district, the increase approved by legislators would mean an additional $804,860 for the next school year. Eudora and Baldwin City will receive an additional $110,664 and $109,208, respectively.
Doll said the Lawrence district has lost $10 million in state funding during the recession cuts. That loss of revenue has meant eliminating some programs and increased classroom sizes, Doll said.
Now with a possible increase for next year, Doll said there will be a lot of competing needs for the money. "I'm very appreciative and thankful for the additional dollars we are getting and we are going to spend it on kids," he said.
But that increase may be short-lived because of the new law that will cut individual income tax rates for 2013 and eliminate income taxes for the owners of 191,000 businesses. The state sales tax of 6.3 percent is already scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent in July 2013.
A legislative research staff report said the tax cuts would produce a budget shortfall for the next session of the Legislature that could grow to the $2.5 billion to $3 billion range within six years.
Brownback, however, contends that the state budget will be in good shape because the tax cuts will result in increased economic activity and jobs. He also said his administration will continue to find areas to reduce spending, although he vowed to fund what he calls the core services of government.
"Now, all major policy changes, just like changes in life, are met with understandable criticisms, and skepticism," Brownback said. "But let me say clearly we will meet the needs of our schools, and our most vulnerable and our roads will get built," he said.
But educators say Brownback's math doesn't add up. Losing a significant amount of tax revenue will have an impact on schools, which is about half of the state budget, they said. A simulation done at the request of a legislator, showed what would happen if general state aid to schools was reduced by $1 billion. Lawrence schools would be cut by $21.1 million under that scenario.
"I hope the governor is right," said Doll. But, he said, he doesn't believe the tax cuts will create the economic increase that would be needed to offset the loss of revenue.
"We are scared to death," Doll said. "The state could be running deficits within two years. If they start to run deficits, then the solution is to raise taxes or cut school programs," he said.