Governor Eyes Cuts To Education, KPERS To Fill Budget Gap

Apr 21, 2016

Credit Jimmy Everson, DVM / flickr Creative Commons

The state of Kansas reduced its revenue projections for this fiscal year and the next by $228.6 million, further increasing the state's budget deficit. As a result, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed three plans for erasing the shortfall, one of which affects K-12 education.

The plan would cut spending to public schools, universities and most state agencies by nearly $140 million. Cuts ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent would reduce funding for school districts across the state by more than $57 million.

Jim Freeman, chief financial officer of Wichita Public Schools, says that would be an unpleasant surprise. Specifics of the cuts have not been given, but Freeman says it could be as much as $6 million for the district.

“We're certainly hoping that they don't choose that option," Freeman says. "If they do, it just makes the process that we are going through right now, in terms of trying to reduce our budget for next year, just that much harder.”

Wichita Public Schools has been struggling to cut expenditures already, with flat funding levels and an estimated $22.7 million increase in costs. To make up for the differences, the district has looked at options including reducing the number of school nurses, librarians and counselors and moving to a four-day school week.

All of Brownback's  proposals take money from higher education.

Last month, the governor ordered state universities to cut spending by more than $17 million through June 30. For Wichita State University, that was about $2.2 million. Two of the new proposals to balance the budget continue that reduction.

A separate plan would cut as much as 5 percent from Kansas State University, University of Kansas and Wichita State. For WSU, that’s about $3.7 million for the next fiscal year.

WSU President John Bardo released a statement Thursday saying the school will “weather whatever occurs at the state level and that he is committed to avoiding layoffs or furloughs."

WSU currently has a freeze on all non-critical spending, including anything that is not absolutely required to keep the university running. Bardo says cuts will not impact the Innovation Campus because construction there is not reliant on state funds.

Credit Stephen Koranda / KPR

Other suggestions include delaying the state's public employee pension fund payment until 2018.

The governor has already delayed a $93 million payment into the retirement fund for educators and most government employees, which was due April 15. Brownback previously had said he intended to delay it only until September, but if one proposal to balance the budget is approved, the delay could continue until fiscal year 2018.

"So what the state would do would be to not actually transfer the money into the KPERS system for the payments but instead give them basically an IOU," says Ken Kriz, director of the Kansas Public Finance Center at Wichita State.

Brownback has cited problems with mainstays in the Kansas economy as largely responsible for the lack of revenue. But critics insist the 2012 income tax cuts are to blame.

Brownback has said he doesn't believe that it’s useful to have a debate at this point about raising taxes on small businesses or anyone else.

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