Proposed bill would reduce funding for schools this year
Senate Bill 71 that is currently being discussed at the Kansas State Legislature would immediately reduce Local Option Budget (LOB) state aid to K-12 public school districts to help a failing state government pay its bills, it has been reported.
The impact on the three school districts based in Jackson County would be $135,435. State government will run low on money to pay its bills in the next week or so, unless more state expenses can be cut.
Tax reduction policies promoted by Gov. Sam Brownback and approved by the Legislature over the past four years have not generated the amount of job growth needed to make up for the tax breaks that critics say went primarily to the rich corporations.
Under SB 71, Holton USD 336 would be cut $59,902. Royal Valley would be cut $45,915. Jackson Heights would be cut $29,618.
Superintendent Dennis Stones of Holton and Superintendent John Rundle of Royal Valley, who are both in their 14th year as superintendents, said that at this point in the school term school districts would have no option but to adjust to the emergency state aid decrease. Stones has served 38 years in public education, 28 as a school administrator. Rundle has served 26 years in public education.
“If the state would have decided to reduce the LOB state aid back in August, we could have adjusted our new proposed budget accordingly and increased the local taxes to make up for it,’’ Stones said. “At this point, there’s nothing we can do.’’
In the case of Royal Valley back in August, Rundle said, the decrease in the mill levy would have been more like 8 ½ mills instead of 10 ½ mills.
While SB 71 is worrisome enough to school superintendents across the state, the even bigger concern really is the talk at the Legislature to end the state’s current state aid funding formula and replacing it for the next two years with a so-called “block grant’’ funding plan that supposedly would guarantee the same amount of state aid to schools during that two-year period.
“Right now, nothing else is known about this block grant proposal,’’ Stones said. “We have no idea what the block grant will look like but it will greatly impact our next budget. Why not use the current, proven formula? The only thing wrong with it is that it is just not funded by the Legislature.’’
Supt. Rundle has similar concerns about the block grant proposal.
“It’s the idea of trusting the Legislature to go to the block grant and then ultimately developing a new funding formula,’’ Rundle said. “Why leave a formula that has been serving well?’’
Rundle also questioned whether the “block grant’’ plan, if approved, would give back to school districts the full state aid they started with for the current school term or if it would become the new state aid totals after money is taken away under Senate Bill No. 71.
“We are hearing that KPERS funding will go up under the block grant proposal next year, but at the expense of K-12 school operating funds for classrooms,’’ Stones said. “It is expected that there will be a $127 million reduction in classroom funds with $90 million of that going to fund the state’s KPERS responsibility.’’
KPERS is the State of Kansas Retirement System for Public Employees, which includes public school teachers and administrators but it is not limited to just them.
Rundle said that the only thing known for sure about the block grant proposal is that it would reduce funding to K-12 public schools by an estimated $127 million and that general state aid, capital outlay state aid and supplemental state aid all would be cut.
“We don’t know how many other surprises will be in the block grant proposal,’’ Rundle said. “Once we leave the current state aid formula, legislators will be writing new rules on the fly, as they go.’’
Both Stones and Rundle said the general public needs to be paying close attention to what Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature are doing to public education as state leaders scramble to keep state government itself solvent.
If state government continues down the path of decreasing state aid to public schools, they said, the schools will have no choice but to increase local taxes to make up the difference. In the case of schools located in non-metropolitan areas, the scenario would mean higher local taxes or closing the schools.
Both Stones and Rundle said the best part about the state’s current state aid formula is that it guarantees equal opportunity to all Kansas students for a good education.
“Your ZIP code should not determine whether you get a good education in Kansas,’’ Rundle said.
In the meantime, it has been announced that the Schools For Fair Funding group, representing dozens of school districts, has filed suit against the state over what it argues is unconstitutionally low funding for schools.
In what’s known as the Gannon v. State lawsuit, it is claimed that the poorer (rural) school districts are not receiving equitable funding compared with wealthier (urban) districts and that total state aid to schools is inadequate.