TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback Tuesday sought to push back against Democrats who have tried to brand him as an enemy of education, saying that his big tax cuts will hurt Kansas schools.
Brownback said that he has increased overall spending on schools and that he is trying to make the system more efficient.
“The best way to improve schools is to grow the economy,” Brownback told reporters at a statehouse news conference. He said that will be achieved, in part, by the income tax cuts he signed into law earlier this year.
His comments come a day after a school efficiency task force he assembled met for the first time and heard a bevy of conflicting information on how education money is spent and what role funding has in student achievement.
It also comes as Democrats have been attacking Republicans across the state with ads that say that Kansas Republicans’ top office holder, Brownback, has dramatically cut school funding.
Brownback said he increased overall education funding by $40 million this year. But Democrats point to per pupil base state aid, which has decreased.
The amount of per pupil base state aid has decreased each year since 2008, according to state figures. It fell from $3,937 in 2010-2011 to $3,780 for 2011-2012.
But this year, Brownback and lawmakers agreed to add $58 to per student aid, still lower than it was when Brownback took office.
But overall education funding, which includes increases for ballooning pensions, has increased.
Brownback showed a chart showing decreases in state education spending under the administrations of former Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, although he acknowledged that federal stimulus money made up for some of the reductions.
Brownback said state data shows only 54 percent of education money is being spent on instruction. He acknowledged that the numbers may not include things a common person would probably consider to be part of instruction, but he said the bottom line is the state needs to have a better understanding of how money is spent and must get more money into classrooms.
“You can’t keep sucking all this money out of the classroom,” he said.
Democrats have said that all state school districts put more than 65 percent of their money into classrooms. The difference seems to be in how different groups and political parties categorize spending.
Brownback said if state can cut overhead cost by 10 percent it could save $250 million. That would hire 3,000 new teachers, he said.
Brownback has not set a timeline for when the school efficiency task force will produce recommendations. But his spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag said she expects that they will have recommendations to consider before the start of the legislative session in January.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence said Brownback had a choice of whether to restore education cuts or give tax creates to benefit the wealthiest. "He made his choice,” he said. “Now he's trying to mitigate the damage with rhetoric that fails to match reality."