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State legislative update

School funding remains a concern

Rep., District 70

Governor Brownback gave his State of the State address Jan. 12 and on Thursday he unveiled his budget plan for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year (ending June 30) and for fiscal year 2012. I haven’t yet read the 400-page budget proposal; I have read the overview, however. Much of the budget will have no apparent effect on us, but some parts will have direct and immediate impact on the folks of this district.

I appreciate the Governor leading with his own ideas, not simply placing budget decisions in the legislature’s lap. Time will tell what we think of those ideas, but they do give us a starting point. For one, it appears Governor Brownback intends to fund Medicaid at current levels while he and his secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services determine changes to the program that he believes are appropriate. Also he proposes to keep funding for Corrections.

As for public education, Governor Brownback stated Jan. 12 he wants it fully funded. The written report released Thursday from the Governor’s Director of Policy calls for a reduction of base state aid per pupil — $4,012 to $3,780 — for the rest of 2011 as well as for 2012. It appears his budget takes money for classrooms and salaries and moves it to KPERS funding, bond payments, and possibly special education — all necessary, too.

The bottom dollar of the funding appears to be the same state spending, but the schools are clearly being cut for regular classroom education. You and I will have to decide if that is fully funding education or not.

For a school district with 500 students, the $232 per-student decrease of base state aid (not to mention the payments that are weighted for special circumstances) amounts to $116,000 over 18 months.

The good news is, knowing that money could be in short supply, I encouraged all eight school districts with students in my legislative district to keep a healthy contingency reserve fund, to hang on to every nickel and dime possible, and to squirrel it away. It is true that not all schools were in the position to do that, but those that had that capability did so. The question is whether any school district has that much money just lying around.

Schools have already pared back teaching staffs and programs. You need to weigh in on what is the right balance and what is too much.

In final analysis, it appears the Governor is not replacing the federal stimulus dollars we received and used in fiscal years 2009, 2010, and the first half of 2011 to shore up our education system. He intends to keep our state spending flat, which ultimately reduces money to schools.

I believe the 2011 cut to base state aid will require legislative approval, but for 2012 it won’t. Under the Kansas Constitution, the Governor can line item veto an appropriation. For example, if the legislature funds base state aid again for 2012 at $4,012, the Governor could veto that amount and reduce it anyway to the $3,780 he requested in his budget. I believe the line item veto is a good thing, and I believe it is a vital tool for a governor.

For each of us, however, it may depend on whether we like an item as to whether we’d want the Governor to exercise that veto authority. I still appreciate the Governor has been proactive; I just hope we can impact the matter of school spending. This may again be the toughest issue of the legislative session.

You may contact me at brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at either 201 Meadow Lane, Marion KS 66861 or at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call me at (620) 382-2133. My phone number during the session through about May 15 is (785) 296-7636. My office will now be Room 54-A in the Capitol, so if you’re going to be in Topeka, let me know.

Last modified Jan. 20, 2011

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