Kansas classroom aid estimate drops by $12 million

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A school funding plan recently enacted in Kansas is projected to provide $12 million less than previously thought for public school classrooms, and a top State Department of Education official publicly apologized Tuesday for “confusion” surrounding its estimates.

Aides to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said he and his staff weren’t aware of the revised estimates when the governor signed the plan into law last week. Brownback and GOP lawmakers who backed the plan said repeatedly that it would put an additional $73 million into classrooms for the 2014-2015 school year.

The first estimate was based on figures issued April 6 by the Department of Education as legislators were preparing to pass the final version of the plan. But new figures April 17 showed the extra dollars for classrooms, as calculated by the Brownback administration, would be $61 million and local school property taxes would drop $84 million, instead of the $78 million previously calculated.

Brownback signed the bill April 20. Four days later, Attorney General Derek Schmidt attached the April 6 figures to a petition he filed in Shawnee County District Court, seeking dismissal of part of an education funding lawsuit filed by parents and school districts in 2010.

“We’re sorry for the confusion,” Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said.

The April 17 figures were posted online, but Dennis said some state officials weren’t notified of the revised figures and, “That’s partly our fault.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the administration and its allies were trying to mislead Kansas residents about the plan, which passed the Legislature with only GOP support. Democrats opposed policy provisions attached by GOP conservatives, such as a measure eliminating tenure for public school teachers.

“They’re trying to spin the numbers better than they are,” Hensley said.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley called Hensley’s comments “absurd,” and Acting Budget Director Jon Hummell added, “Everybody’s back on the same page now.”

The Wichita Eagle first reported the differing estimates Sunday. The department issued a statement Monday that it didn’t have time April 6 to account for late changes in the school funding plan.

The plan responds to a Kansas Supreme Court order in March to boost aid to poor school districts. The justices returned the education funding lawsuit to Shawnee County District Court for further review, but Schmidt wants the lower court to dismiss parts of the lawsuit dealing with funding gaps between poor and wealthy districts.

Schmidt said in a letter Tuesday to the newspaper that he included the April 6 computer run because it was what legislators had in passing the plan.

“As a legal matter, the State must point to the information that the Legislature actually used when it made its decision,” Schmidt wrote.

The plan enacted this month provides an additional $129 million to poor districts during the 2014-15 school year but makes other adjustments in how all schools are funded. The result is a mix of new classroom funds and cuts in property taxes levied by poor districts to supplement their state funds.

The revised Department of Education figures show an additional $36 million going into classrooms, and Brownback’s administration counts another $25 million in new funds to poor districts for equipment and capital improvement projects.

The old estimates showed $48 million going into classrooms, with another $25 million in capital outlay funds.

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Online:

State Department of Education site with new computer run: http://bit.ly/1hQI9B5

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

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

 

 

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