Schools operate with funds distributed based on base state aid per pupil (BSAPP). This number serves as an index for additional funding for at-risk, rural, and other funds.
In 2008 through 2010, schools hired staff on contracts based on BSAPP only to see the rate cut again and again during the school year. Local schools had to make up the difference using local funds. Many small districts have exhausted their reserves.
The Brownback plan will push BSAPP back nearly 20 years. Current BSAPP funding is $4,012 and House Bill 2014 will reduce it $75 to $3,937. Another proposed $157 will be cut in fiscal year 2012, providing $$3,780. In fiscal year 2013, another $130 will be cut, leaving schools to manage on $3,650 per pupil.
When was the last time school funding was at this level? Since in a previous decade the Kansas Legislature had moved other state school revenues into the BSAPP figure, a complicated shuck-and-jive that I won’t describe here, the actual base state aid per pupil dollars in 2013 will be less than it was over two decades earlier. And that is without any adjustment for inflation.
The effect on Kansas schools will be dramatic. Class sizes will continue to grow larger each year. More curricular and program offerings that are not mandated will disappear.
Perhaps most serious will be the inability to recruit new teachers. With 80 percent of school operating budgets tied up in salaries, cutting personnel is the only recourse. With veteran teachers staying on due to the economic decline, and many schools downsizing dramatically, even the best newly graduated teachers will have difficulty finding jobs. The most responsible of those new teachers, when they can’t find a job teaching, will get a job in another field and be unlikely to re-license once the positions eventually open up. This will leave Kansas with a missing generation of teachers. And it is already discouraging college students from entering teaching.
Raising more revenue in the present Kansas political climate appears intractable. Illinois managed to increase state income taxes by 50 percent. But Kansas is not Illinois.
Some are pushing for eliminating state tax exemptions. This could raise substantial revenue but many Kansas politicians are wedded to various tax exemptions. And few want to face re-election having restored sales taxes on Girl Scout cookies.
Some want to define "suitable" funding for education to avoid interpretation by the state Supreme Court and to reduce the portion of the school day considered a state responsibility. But state and federal mandates will prevent trimming the school day in any significant amount. And no law, no matter how "well defined" today, will avoid ambiguity tomorrow. Courts always have the duty to interpret. The proposed scheme to reduce BSAPP from the state general fund and load more funding burden on local districts is a fool’s gambit. If the 30 percent lid was lifted and rich districts could build luxury schools, the poorer and mainly rural schools could not. That inequity ran into trouble in court before, and it will again. However, such a plan could play out for a few years during litigation while the other consequence of the law takes effect: massive rural school consolidation.
Federal stimulus money that has propped up education for the last two years, was provided to states on the grounds that they "supplement, not supplant" state funds. 2006 was set as the minimal level: drop below that and there are federal penalties. Kansas is already losing about $2 million. Dropping to 1992 levels would be a further violation in "maintenance of effort." Proponents apparently expect that lost federal revenue will be far less than the savings from cuts. Indeed, many states "backfilled" state cuts with federal stimulus dollars to a far greater extent than Kansas.
Despite the uncertain direction of pending legislation, the effect of current plans is certain. Kansas is moving to pre-1992 levels of school funding.