Appropriations Committee wrestles with budget gap; shifts parent education funding

The House Appropriations Committee continued debate on state agency funding for the fiscal years 2018 and 2019 budget, and unanimously agreed to shift funding for the Parents as Teachers program so limits on participation could be removed.

The committee is scheduled to continue discussion on the budget Tuesday afternoon.

The committee voted to shift $7 million to pay for PAT programs from federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds to the state Children’s Initiatives Fund, reversing a change made two years ago.

TANF funding is limited to low income families and those who meet other eligibility requirements. Ranking Democrat Kathy Wolf-Moore, D-Kansas City, says PAT leaders report these requirements discourage needy families from participating due to social stigma, especially in small communities.

Shifting funding to the CIF, the prior source of revenue, means that federal requirements would not apply. For most of the PAT program’s history, it has been open to all families.

The committee approved the change unanimously Tuesday morning, although several members were concerned that limited funding should be directed at low income and other families with special challenges.

On Monday, the committee reversed an earlier decision to add $140 million for Kansas Public Employees Retirement System contributions in FY 2018 and an additional $193 million in FY 2019 to keep on schedule to pay off the unfunded liability of the KPERS system.

Gov. Sam Brownback proposed freezing KPERS contributions at the 2016 level for Fiscal Years 2017, 2018 and 2019 as part of the plan to close a budget deficit. Both the House and Senate generally agreed to freeze contributions in 2017, but details are still being worked out in conference committee on the rescission bill, S Sub for Sub HB 2052.

Earlier, House Appropriations voted to restore the scheduled KPERS funding for FY 2018 and 2019. However, with no tax bill passed after the Governor’s veto of Sub HB 2178 last month, spending tentatively approved by the committee exceeded revenues by over $300 million in FY 2018 and over $400 million in FY 2019, without additional funding to address the Gannon school finance decision.

The committee voted narrowly to remove the additional KPERS funding and reconsider during the May 1 veto session, which will also occur after new state revenue estimates are released in April. The House is also hoping to pass a school finance plan before the regular session ends on April 7.

Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, proposed an amendment to the committee Monday afternoon that would have added $300 million for school funding in FY 2018 and $450 million FY 2019 to provide a “target” for school finance. After discussion about the work of the House K-12 Budget Committee, which just completed hearings on a school finance proposal, he withdrew the amendment before a vote.

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