- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Public schools in Kansas would lose $51 million of the state dollars they expected to receive before the end of June under an education funding plan from top Republican legislators, state Department of Education figures showed Friday.

The department’s analysis of the school funding plan showed that the reductions under the plan would be deeper than cuts announced by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to help balance the state budget. He and lawmakers must close a budget shortfall that arose after they cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback’s urging to stimulate the economy.

The governor’s cuts, which take effect Saturday, will trim $28 million. The reductions from GOP legislative leaders would be $23 million higher and total about 1.5 percent of the general aid the state’s 286 school districts were to receive.

Brownback is making an across-the-board reduction per-student. Republican legislators’ plan would concentrate the reductions in dollars for equipment and building repairs and aid for districts that want to levy additional property taxes but can’t match the revenue-raising of the wealthiest ones. If GOP legislators’ plan was enacted, some funds could be shifted among districts, with winners and losers.

The House and Senate budget committees planned hearings early next week on the legislative plan. Their Republican chairmen, Rep. Ron Ryckman, of Olathe, and Sen. Ty Masterson, of Andover, defended the plan’s reductions for the current school year by noting that school districts still would receive significantly more aid than during the 2013-14 school year.

“No district under this plan should have to cut a planned expenditure unless it’s a local decision for other than funding reasons,” Masterson said.

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said it’s unfair and unnecessary to reduce state aid so late in the school year.

“If districts got an increase in spending, they budgeted for it,” Tallman said. “Now, they’re being told they won’t be getting as much.”

The GOP legislators’ plan incorporates Brownback’s proposal to jettison the funding formula and give districts “block grants” based on their current aid until lawmakers can write a new formula.

Brownback and other GOP conservatives argue that the state’s current per-pupil formula for distributing aid is hard to understand and doesn’t direct enough dollars into the classroom. Other lawmakers and educators say the problem is that the state doesn’t spend enough money.

Republican legislators’ plan also would prevent unanticipated and automatic spending increases that have occurred under the existing formula.

Brownback and his allies agreed last year to a big increase in aid for poor school districts to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in a lawsuit filed in 2010, but the price tag was larger than they’d anticipated. Ryckman and Masterson said their plan returns funding to what legislators thought they’d be spending.

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Online:

Kansas Department of Education: https://www.ksde.org/

Kansas Legislature: https://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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