State Board limits budget request for 2020-21 school year

After what officials called the largest four-year increase in school funding in state history passed the Kansas Legislature and was approved by the Kansas Supreme Court this year, the State Board of Education decided not to ask for more money next year, with one exception and a note to the Legislature. 

The board will request an additional $1.55 million in 2020-21 to fully fund transportation aid for high school students attending post-secondary technical education programs. Current funding of $650,000 covers only 30 percent of costs. The board will also add a statement to the Legislature that if additional funding is available for K-12 education, it should first go toward fully funding the state’s target for special education aid or lowering the mileage limit for state transportation aid. 

The Kansas Legislature has already approved increases in base aid per pupil of nearly $200 million this year, over 6.5 percent. For the next three years, 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23, base aid is projected to increase 3.0 percent each year, or over $100 million annually. The plan also increases special education state aid $7.5 million each year. 

In addition, three major state equalization programs are also expected to increase: local option budget state aid by $16 million, capital improvement (bond and interest) aid by $15 million and capital outlay by $2.25 million. Each of these programs basically “match” local property tax funding to reduce and “equalize” the rate in districts with lower valuation. Each of these increases are already built into state budget assumptions. 

Those assumptions have led to projections of a tight state general fund budget over the next several years as additional school funding is phased in and other state costs rise, causing some Legislators and advocacy groups to warn of future deficits. However, state revenues have been running ahead of projections so far this year. 

A majority of State Board members agreed to hold the line on additional funding requests, citing the amount of funding already approved and the needs of other areas of the state budget affecting children and students. 

The biggest budget debate was over special education state aid. For 2020, the program is funded at just under $500 million, which is estimated to cover 78.2 percent of the “excess cost” of special education – the estimated cost of providing special education services in excess of the cost “regular” education for those students, less federal aid. Under state law, special education is supposed to cover 92 percent of those costs, but that target is not required. 

After adding $7.5 million next year, the percentage of excess cost is expected to drop to 75.3 percent, mostly because special education teacher salaries – the biggest special education costs– are expected to increase along with other teacher salaries, due to higher base state aid. 

Board member Ann Mah, D-Topeka, urged the board to request funding to the full 92 percent target, even if phased-in over several year, as the board requested last year. She noted that underfunding special education requires districts to transfer funding from regular education programs for required special education costs not covered by state and federal aid. 

But other members argued that the Board should not seek funding beyond the levels already approved by the Legislature. General K-12 operating funds are expected to increase by a total of $1 billion from 2017, when the Legislature began responding to the Gannon school finance lawsuit, through 2023, when the plan accepted by the Kansas Supreme Court is fully phased in. The increase is estimated to restore funding to approximate inflation-adjusted 2009 levels. 

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