Politics & Government

Brownback aide to outline plan for funding schools

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback, who wants to change the way Kansas distributes about $3 billion in state aid to school districts, will send a top aide to brief the State Board of Education next week on the administration's proposal for handing out the funds.

Brownback policy director Landon Fulmer will speak to the 10-member board during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The administration's proposal includes setting a new baseline for state aid, giving districts block grants and letting counties vote on a special sales tax for education.

Brownback is expected to present the plan to legislators when they return in January for the 2012 session.

While the details haven't been released, a top state education official said this week that a jump in enrollment and more students qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunches will cost Kansas more in the current school year.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said the increases will require an additional $24.7 million to prevent further cuts in state aid to schools.

Districts are receiving a base of $3,780 per student in 2011-12, down $232 from the previous year. If the additional revenue isn't approved by legislators when they return in January, districts will have to make do or tap reserve accounts to cover the expenses.

Dennis said the base state amount would drop about $36 per student if state funds have to be redistributed.

In previous years, governors have recommended that legislators pay the increased education and social services expenses that are incurred during the middle of a state fiscal year. Typically those increases have ranged between $50 million and $100 million.

However, Brownback said recently that it would be difficult for the state to pay the additional costs, citing a soft state economy and concerns about reductions in federal spending.

Kansas will learn today how much revenue it can expect to collect for the remainder of the fiscal year and the next budget year. A group of economists and researchers will issue the revenue forecast, which is used by the governor and legislators to build the state budget. As of October, revenues are running about $61 million ahead of what was projected in April.

Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Monday that policymakers "need to continue to focus on fiscally responsible spending, so the state is in a position to accommodate unanticipated revenue events."

Brownback is expected to announce his tax proposal in the coming weeks, along with proposed changes in Medicaid programs.