TOPEKA — Kansas legislators struggled Wednesday to resolve how to satisfy the federal government's demands that the state boost spending on special-education programs in public schools without undercutting Gov. Sam Brownback's effort to trim the current state budget.
House and Senate budget negotiators resumed talks on a bill sought by Brownback to revise the budget. The negotiations stalled last week, and the key disagreement was about special-education funding.
State officials said the U.S. Department of Education has warned Kansas that federal law requires the state to increase its special-education funding by more than $26 million. Otherwise, the state faces the loss of the same amount of federal funds every year going forward.
Senators voted to add money to the current budget to cover the cost, but that action went against Brownback's efforts to reduce overall spending. The House had sided with Brownback.
Negotiators were reviewing rival proposals Wednesday. One plan from senators would delay a scheduled quarterly payment by the state to the pension fund for teachers and government workers, temporarily freeing up funds to cover the special education costs. The other, from the House, would cover the same costs by diverting funds from the state's base aid for its 289 school districts.
The two sides met briefly again Wednesday afternoon without reaching agreement on most issues. Negotiations were to resume today.
Brownback has endorsed the House plan but hasn't taken a stance on the Senate proposal.
The governor wants to cut $38 million in spending from the current budget, leaving cash reserves of about $35 million when the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Both the savings and the reserves would roll over, helping reduce a $492 million shortfall projected for the next fiscal year.
The House's version of the budget bill met the goal. The Senate's version would have left cash reserves of less than $3 million.
But a majority of senators considered it irresponsible to risk a loss of federal special education dollars.
"What we're trying to do is make sure we don't lose federal special-education money in perpetuity," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.
The special education problem concerns the state's use of federal economic stimulus dollars to help support special-education programs over the past two years.
Federal law allowed it but required the state to maintain a minimum level of funding, based on a complicated formula. Federal officials have now concluded the state didn't comply.
"The governor believes it is possible to address the (special-education) issue without spending new money," said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.