Brownback announces budget cuts

By Kansas Association of School Boards
December 09, 2014

Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday announced $280 million in budget cuts and transfers to cover a revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year budget.

The plan doesn't make a direct cut to school finance, but does cut many state agencies by 4 percent, including the Kansas Department of Education and Department for Children and Families. It also sweeps funds from various functions that could impact students. In addition, Brownback’s Budget Director, Shawn Sullivan, said the administration would be working with legislative leaders to make changes to the school finance formula.

The Governor’s announcement also notes the plan will allow the state to add $63.9 million in education funding this year to cover higher-than-expected costs in local option budget, capital outlay and bond and interest state aid.

But in interviews with newspapers, Sullivan called for reforms to the school finance formula because of the higher-than-expected increases for equalization costs.

“We have got to make structural reforms to the (school finance) formula, and we will be working with legislators to do that,” Sullivan told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Because we cannot continue to sustain $60 to $80 million of increases year over year to non-classroom spending to those three categories,” he said. The Legislative Session starts Jan. 12.

The plan reduces state contributions for the Kansas Public Employees Contribution System (KPERS) by $40.7 million. The Kansas Budget Division did not have a breakdown on how much of the reduction would be applied to school districts. However, KPERS school funding is still likely to be higher than last year, because the 2014 Legislature approved an increase of nearly $40 million for the current year.

“These first steps are a down payment in resolving the immediate budget issue,” Brownback said in a news release.

“KASB appreciates Governor Brownback’s proposal to avoid reductions in K-12 education  funding in the current year,” said Associate Executive Director Mark Tallman. “Our goal is to maintain high quality public schools producing students ready to succeed as adults.”

Tallman said any changes in the school finance formula would have to take into account the need for both funding equity and local opportunities to enhance schools.

Many of the Governor’s proposals will have to be approved by the Kansas Legislature when it meets in January.  The state still faces a $436 million shortfall when legislators start working next month on the next fiscal year budget.

“Our job now is to address this situation through good fiscal governance while maintaining our investment in education, sustaining funding for public safety and allowing T-WORKS to be completed,” Brownback said. T-WORKS is the name of the state highway plan.

The Department of Education will face a $230,000 budget cut while the Department for Children and Families, which administers state welfare programs, a $4 million cut.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said the governor’s budget cuts will not impact “any flow through money for school districts.” He said the $230,000 cut can be made up by delaying filling vacancies at the department. He said the agency would try to make the cuts as harmless as possible.

Other big ticket cuts include a transfer of $95.7 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation; a $55 million sweep of funds from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; $40 million reduction in the state’s contribution rate to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System; and a $14.5 million sweep of funds from the Kansas Endowment for Youth.

The revenue shortfalls were caused by tax cuts championed by Brownback. Under state law, the governor is allowed to make cuts whenever the budget director certifies projected revenues are insufficient to cover projected expenses.