Opinion Columns & Blogs

Fund balances won't save schools

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the amount of tax dollars that school districts have available. One member of the Kansas State Board of Education alleges that school districts had more than $700 million on hand on July 1, 2009, that could be used to fund education (excluding capital and bond payments).

That fact by itself is very misleading. Each account must be analyzed separately, and many of those funds already have been spent since July 1.

Let's break down the $700 million on July 1:

* About 30 percent was in special education and special education cooperative funds. The state does not make a special education payment until Oct. 15. Therefore, this fund must have a balance to pay for mandated special education services from July until October.

* The special reserve fund of $86.1 million primarily covers self-funded health insurance and workers' compensation insurance for the districts. If this fund were spent for other purposes, those districts wouldn't be able to pay employee health costs.

* The textbook fund had $42.3 million, which is needed to purchase or replace increasingly expensive textbooks and instructional supplies.

* The food service fund had $42.2 million, which is for districts to buy food for school lunches to begin the new school year.

* There was $42.1 million in the supplemental general fund, which is carried over to lower the property tax and fund next year's budget.

* There was $23.4 million in the gift and grants fund, which primarily consists of private grants or gifts earmarked for a specific purpose.

* The K-12 at-risk fund had a cash balance of $17.4 million, which is used to help cash flow for the at-risk programs at the beginning of the school year, such as summer school, before-school and after-school programs.

School districts need cash on July 1 because the next substantial property-tax payment is six months away, on Jan. 20. School district expenditures for the 2008-09 school year averaged $472 million per month.

The one fund available for use is the contingency reserve fund. On July 1, 2009, that fund had a balance of $175.5 million, which equates to 5.4 percent of the districts' general fund. This amount has been decreasing during the 2009-10 school year.

Kansas school districts are working hard to educate our children. Certainly there are a number of accounts that contain funds for specific educational purposes. The real question should be: What is the impact of reducing the tax dollars available to education?

A Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit analysis of the costs of K-12 education stated: "We found a strong association between the amounts districts spend and the outcomes they achieve... almost a one-to-one relationship. This means that, all other things being equal, districts that spent more had better student performance."

The base state aid per pupil for the 2009-10 school year, by statute, should be $4,492. This is the primary source of funding for the regular classroom. Due to state aid reductions, we are down to $4,012, an 11 percent reduction.

School funding is already $300 million less than the law provides. Plus, the state has eliminated funding for capital outlay and professional development. These cuts have an impact on our children's education today.

We know that our legislators and governor will be making tough choices during the upcoming legislative session. Educators just ask that they make their decisions based on accurate information, with the future of our students in mind.