School district funding from state in peril
Topeka Funding to Kansas public schools would face a cut under a proposal made by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' budget office, officials said last 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.
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.
The Baldwin Board of Education and Supt. Paul Dorathy briefly discussed this possible state-funding cut at its Nov. 10 meeting. Board Member Scott Lauridsen began the discussion by telling board members to be aware of it, because it could have a significant impact. Dorathy agreed, saying the district needs to be ready in case it happens, because it could cut around $100,000 of its budget.
“I think we need to be prepared and not wait until April when the Legislature might tell us they won’t be able to give us additional money we had planned for,” Dorathy said. “I think we have to be a little proactive and start looking at those things now. At this point, we are looking at some things within the main budget here at the district office. Before we get to that point, we will be asking for district staff input about things we might have to cut in our general fund budget.”
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
Baldwin City Signal staff writer Jimmy Gillispie contributed to this story.