Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Kansas budget office: School budgets could face cuts

November 19, 2008

TOPEKA — Funding to Kansas public schools would face a cut under a proposal made by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget office, officials said Thursday.

The current fiscal year budget would be cut $11 million, from $3.246 billion to $3.235 billion. And the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2009, would face another cut of approximately $1.5 million.

Those reductions may not seem like a lot relative to the overall school budget, but education advocates point out that under current state law, schools were supposed to get an increase in funding of approximately $150 million.

De Soto USD 232 Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said proposal would necessitate cuts to the operating budgets of state school districts.

“Anytime there is talk of cuts in public education, given we are still behind based on inflation from 1992, it’s a concern,” she said.

The district’s message to legislators is the need to follow up on the increased funding already approved for the next fiscal year that would add $59 to the state’s base aid per student, Zoellner said.

“My message and our message to the legislators is we would expect them to uphold the law, and the law says we get $59 to the base next year,” she said.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Wagnon, D-Topeka, said failure to provide that increase would have a negative effect on students.

He said recent increases in school funding have led to better academic achievement by many students. Now, more funding is needed, to raise up the level of the most difficult students, he said.

“That is my real fear. The resources needed to meet the increasingly difficult challenges are just simply not going to be there,” Wagnon said.

A large portion of those proposed increases already written into law, are linked to Kansas Supreme Court-ordered increases in funding for at-risk and special education students. The court decision followed a lawsuit by school districts that claimed the state failed to adequately fund education.

“If the Legislature were not to fund the school finance law, that would have implications then on the lawsuit,” said Mark Tallman, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

The proposal by Sebelius’ budget office is not a final recommendation. Sebelius will propose a budget to the Legislature when the 2009 session starts in January.

But the downturn in the national economy has hit the state budget hard.

State budget experts say lawmakers could be facing a $1 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Sebelius has said she wants to protect public school and social service funding, but together that makes up about three-fourths of the state budget.

— Statehouse reporter Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-354-4222 or 785-423-0668.

De Soto editor Elvyn J. Jones contributed to this story.

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