Democrats criticize Brownback’s proposed cuts to schools
Topeka — Democratic leaders in the Legislature on Friday criticized Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to cut base state aid per pupil back to levels last seen in the 1990s.
They said the Legislature should try to repeal some tax exemptions and loopholes to find additional funds for schools.
"To me, funding schools is the absolute most important thing that we can do," House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said.
The proposed cuts will result in teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and local property tax increases, educators and legislators have said.
But Republicans rose to defend Brownback, a Republican who introduced his first state budget proposal Thursday.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the governor was showing leadership in tough economic times.
The recent recession will cause state government to re-set, and result in several more years of cuts, O'Neal said. "We are just going to have to bite the bullet," he said.
Brownback's plan would reduce base state aid per pupil from $4,012 to $3,780 over the rest of the current school year and the next school year. That would be the lowest base state aid per student level since the 1999-2000 school year.
Brownback said his proposals were necessary to balance the budget without a tax increase and to help bridge an estimated $550 million revenue shortfall.
And his staff said total school funding would actually increase $129 million under his budget, but that figure includes funds to cover obligations for retirement, special education and debt payments on capital projects. School finance experts say the base state aid per pupil figure shows true spending on students in the classroom.
The proposed reduction in base state aid results from Brownback's decision not to replace expiring federal stimulus funding that had helped prop up the education budget over the past two years.
Davis and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said the cut would be actually deeper because failing to replace the federal funds carries into a third year bringing the total reduction in base state aid per pupil to $362 -- a 9 percent cut that would set the level at $3,650 per student, which would be the lowest since the 1996-97 school year.
But O'Neal said there are areas in school finance that the state pays for that it probably shouldn't.
"I will submit that the education that our children should be mandated to have and the state pay for is something less than the sum total of all curriculum that is being offered right now," he said.
Here is the base state aid per pupil since the 1992-93 school year, according to the Kansas Department of Education.
1992-93 - $3,600
1993-94 - $3,600
1994-95 - $3,600
1995-96 - $3,626
1996-97 - $3,648
1997-98 - $3,670
1998-99 - $3,720
1999-00 - $3,770
2000-01 - $3,820
2001-02 - $3,870
2002-03 - $3,863
2003-04 - $3,863
2004-05 - $3,863
2005-06 - $4,257
2006-07 - $4,316
2007-08 - $4,374
2008-09 - $4,400
2009-10 - $4,012
2010-11 - $4,012
2011-12 - $3,937 (Brownback proposal)
2012-13 - $3,780 (Brownback proposal)