Topeka — Kansas would phase in a substantial increase of $459 million in spending on its public schools over two years under largely symbolic proposals approved Tuesday by the State Board of Education.
Board members fashioned spending recommendations for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years with the state facing potentially lean budgets in the wake of personal income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The board’s proposals also come as a judicial panel considers whether the state is spending enough on its schools to provide every child an adequate education.
But the board’s work was mostly a statement of its support for education. Its proposals would phase in an increase of about 13 percent in aid to public schools, starting in July 2015, and doing so would force the state to reconsider the income tax cuts, enacted by Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.
With state revenues reduced, the state is burning through its cash reserves to sustain spending. Brownback has argued that economic growth will cause tax collections to rebound, but Democrats believe the state will be wrestling with potential budget shortfalls well into the future. Even Brownback’s more optimistic assessment does not allow for as big a short-term boost in education funding as the board has proposed, absent other changes.
But several members said the board has a duty to advocate for public schools. The board’s proposals will go to Brownback, who’s working on his own budget recommendations to submit to lawmakers when they convene their next annual session in January.
“The finances are lean, but I think that we should ask for what we think we need to educate our children,” said board member Carolyn Campbell, a Topeka Democrat.
In the past, legislators and governors have largely ignored the board’s proposals for big spending increases. Board member John Bacon, a conservative Olathe Republican, voted against most of Tuesday’s proposals and said later that members need to consider what the state can afford.
“What’s realistic in our budget? Hopefully, increases of 2 to 3 percent,” Bacon said. “That’s what I think we should advocate for.”
Meanwhile, a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court is reviewing parts of a lawsuit filed in 2010 by parents and school districts. While the Supreme Court resolved issues of whether money is fairly distributed — and lawmakers boosted aid to poor districts — the lower-court panel is considering whether total spending is adequate.