The Kansas City, Kan., school district now has two reasons to be upset with the Brownback administration: its inadequate funding of education and its misleading claims about that funding.
The district announced last week it was laying off 31 staff members, reducing the pay of about 850 other employees, and instituting a 10 percent across-the-board cut to all school and department budgets. It explained that it is losing about $2 million in funding due to the state’s new block-grant program at a time it is facing increased health care costs and a growing enrollment.
“The state is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for all students,” superintendent Cynthia Lane said in a statement.
The Governor’s Office fired back last weekend. Melika Willoughby, deputy communications director, claimed in a statement that the school district’s complaints were the latest example of “misinformation and hyperbole” about school funding.
She said that the Kansas City school district will be receiving $20.7 million in additional state funding during the life of the block-grant program, rather than losing $2 million.
“Once again, it appears that opponents of the block grant find it convenient to blame the legislation for any issues they face,” Willoughby wrote.
The school district responded that Willoughby’s statement contained “erroneous and irrelevant information” in an attempt to mislead the public concerning the reality of the district’s funding.
It noted that $12.9 million of the funding increase that Willoughby cited occurred last year, before the block-grant plan was approved this session. That increase was ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled that the state was not equitably funding public schools. However, that funding went to property tax relief, as required by state law, and didn’t increase the district’s operating budget.
Other funding that Willoughby cited was future payments to the state’s pension plan – which also is money that won’t be available for the district to spend.
“Those two errors in the release from the Governor's Office add up to $20.4 million, and when you add to this the 0.4 percent reduction to current funding that the block grants take from districts to fund an ‘extraordinary needs’ fund, the $2 million loss that is referred to in the release is accurate and correct,” the district said.
This isn’t the only time the Governor’s Office has tried to spin the numbers to downplay and dismiss school funding concerns. Willoughby e-mailed a statement in February criticizing media coverage of Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to trim school districts’ current year funding by about $28 million statewide.
The Kansas City school district is not alone in making cuts. Districts throughout the state have been grappling with funding problems – including the Lawrence school district, which last week announced a proposal to cut and reallocate more than $1.2 million as a result of an expected decrease in state aid.
These cuts are painful enough without the Governor’s Office blaming the victims.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee