Democratic Party leader blasts governor and House on school funding

TOPEKA — Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon today blasted Gov. Sam Brownback and House Republican leaders over school finance.

In a Capitol news conference, Wagnon said schools are the No. 1 issue at meetings she’s held across the state over the past two months.

“As the Democrat leader for this state, I am appalled at the state funding for public schools,” Wagnon said. “As a former legislator and secretary of revenue, I understand fiscal constraints as well as anybody, but Gov. Brownback and House leadership are shortchanging our public schools and it’s time to stop.”

Wagnon said proposed cuts in education spending will take the state backward almost to the levels of funding in the 1992-1993 school year, when the current state funding formula was established.

Then, schools received $3,600 in base state aid per pupil. Funding peaked at $4,400 a student in 2008-2009.

This year, following cuts in the budget years from 2009 to 2011, Brownback is proposing to set the base aid at $3,780 for 2011-2012, Wagnon said.

Wagnon said that schools have already had to cut about 1,600 employees.

She predicted further cuts in arts, music, athletics, counseling and other programs.

She said she is especially concerned about cuts in early-childhood programs such as Parents as Teachers and prekindergarten, which she said have already been cut 17 percent.

Although both houses of the Legislature are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, Wagnon expressed a pronounced preference for the Senate budget plan, which proposes smaller cuts to education and a lower ending balance for the year.

“Not funding early childhood education programs solely to preserve an ending balance is unconscionable,” Wagnon said. “The Senate’s approach to lower ending balances has kept some of the more egregious cuts from happening.”