In a recent television interview, Gov. Sam Brownback expressed frustration that many Kansas voters seem to believe state school funding had been cut, when in fact, the governor said, funding has risen 8 percent.
To check the governor’s statement and explore why school supporters (and the public) may believe school funding has been cut, KASB used data from the governor’s budget reports, including the latest “Comparison Report” showing the final action of the 2016 Legislature for Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 20, and the current Fiscal Year 2017.
As the table below shows, line 1, the total of major state aid categories, increased from nearly $3.8 billion in 2011, the first year of Brownback’s administration, to $4.09 billion approved for next year: $295 million or 7.8 percent. That’s very close to the governor’s 8 percent number.
However, note on line 14 that the inflation rate, based on the consumer price index shown on line 13, increased by 8.9 percent (using the Kansas consensus revenue estimate for inflation in FY 2017). Therefore, an 8 percent increase did not even keep up with the general inflation rate.
More importantly from a school operating viewpoint, lines 3 through 7 show state aid programs that cannot be used for general operating expenditures. These include KPERS aid to school districts, which increased $73.4 million between 2011 and 2017; capital outlay state aid, which increased $50.8 million; bond and interest state aid, which increased $84.9 million; and a portion of local option budget state which districts had to use for property tax relief because the LOB was capped ($62 milion).
When these funds are subtracted, state aid available for actual operating expenses, such as teacher salaries and benefits, utilities and student services, increased $23.4 million, or less than 1 percent, compared to an inflation rate of nearly 9 percent during Governor Brownback’s administration.
When net operating aid is divided by the unweighted enrollment (line 10), the amount per pupil (line 11) actually fell by 0.7 percent.
Brownback is correct that total state aid has increased by about 8 percent under his watch, but – as he seemed to acknowledged in the same interview – most of that increase went to programs that cannot be used for regular school district operating costs.
As a result, state operating aid has fallen far behind the rate of inflation, which means school districts have had to cut programs, positions or salaries in order to keep with fixed costs and rising enrollment. That explains why school leaders, patrons and other voters perceive that education funding has been cut.