Modified cuts for schools approved

TOPEKA — A Kansas Senate committee has rejected some of the cuts to public school funding proposed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a move the panel's chairwoman says would still leave the state with a balanced budget next year albeit little financial cushion.

The modified cuts approved Thursday would largely dissolve the $35 million surplus projected from Brownback's package of spending cuts. That's a stark contrast to the House version, which leaves that cushion in place.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn said the committee would finish its work on the budget bill Monday, with debate likely later next week by the full Senate.

"We're going to make sure we make the cuts we need to make to balance the 2011 budget," said McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican in her first term as chairwoman of the committee. "I think it's important to give committee members an opportunity to show what is of interest to them."

Kansas faces a projected budget shortfall of $550 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That figure is based on current state spending obligations and the end of federal stimulus spending used to shore up education and social service programs.

On Tuesday, a House budget committee endorsed a version of the Brownback bill but went further, cutting pay for all Kansas elected officials, judges and state employees by 7.5 percent. The House plan, to be debated by the full chamber early next week, would leave Kansas with about $45 million in reserve to end the fiscal year.

The Senate committee also made a 7.5 percent cut in salaries and wages, but the cuts would apply only to legislators, statewide elected officials and agency heads specified in Kansas law, including the presidents of state universities. The cut would save less than $500,000 through June 30.

Education would receive the biggest increases from senators, with $8.6 million added to compensate the state's 289 school districts for increases in the number of students on free- or reduced-priced lunches. Another $5.7 million would cover the overall increase in the number of students in Kansas schools.

The biggest ticket item was $16.7 million to increase the state's share of special-education costs. Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said the boost would keep Kansas in compliance with federal spending requirements and avoid a financial penalty.

House members and Brownback's staff did not fund the special-education line item, arguing that it was unclear whether Kansas would be penalized for the lower spending amount.

Senators also added $4 million for the state's share of payments for the cost of recovering from federally declared disasters, including flooding and winter storms over the past five years. The House did not include this expenditure in its budget plan.