Local school officials happy with Sebelius' proposal

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Local school district officials said they are pleased with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' recent proposal to keep K-12 school funding at 2009 levels.

Last week, Sebelius proposed changes to the 2010 budget that would maintain public school funding at its current levels for the next two years thanks to money Kansas is scheduled to receive from the recently passed $787 billion federal stimulus package. The proposal, which is still up for debate in the Kansas Legislature, would allow school districts to hold on to thousands of dollars and also allow more time for districts to better plan for possible larger funding cuts after 2011.

"The governor's proposal is the best hope we have," USD 235 Superintendent Randy Rockhold said. "Her recommendations keep our state funding at the currently proposed level for three years, and this is much better than the 10 percent cuts that have been suggested."

Sebelius' proposal will allow Kansas to receive nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds and avoid deep cuts in education and social services. Her plan calls for $367 million in recovery funds from the stimulus bill to stabilize K-12 funding and to restore higher education funding to last year's level. Under Sebelius' proposal, base state aid per pupil in public schools would be reduced $33 per student to $4,400 for the next two years.

While this reduction will mean a $100,000 loss in funding for USD 234 this year, it is still better than potentially larger cuts that district administrators previously faced.

"It's obviously a better package than what we might have been anticipating at 10 or 15 percent, which would have been at least $500,000 more (in cuts)," USD 234 Business Manager Alan Drake said. "It's a better scenario than what we may have been facing in the future. It's a good plan of hers (Sebelius) to stabilize school districts for the next two years. It's a good use of funding that keeps a portion of federal money at the state level."

Rockhold added that he also supports Sebelius' plan, and that he hopes the legislature makes what he feels is the best decision concerning state education funding.

"The governor's proposal still creates tough funding situations, but it is far better than the cuts that have been proposed," he said. "I truly hope the House and Senate do the right thing and approve the governor's proposal. Her proposal will allow us to maintain most of the gains we have made over the past few years. The children of Kansas deserve the best education possible, and we have proven to be good stewards of the funding we receive."

Sebelius' plan would also prevent cuts to special education programs, which would allow the state to gain $107 million in recovery funds, maintain current Medicaid eligibility standards, and prevent cuts to public safety or government services. Her proposal also includes the dedication of $909 million of the federal stimulus package toward providing a cushion for the current state budget, preventing a deficit in fiscal 2010, and warding off budget woes in fiscal 2011. Her plan also calls for $600 million in budget adjustments and no tax increases, and includes elimination of programs, closing facilities, a hiring freeze, and spending cuts.

Rockhold said additional Title I funds will help USD 235 offset funding cuts the district has already received this year and the district's lack of additional state funding over the next two years.

Drake said that Sebelius' proposal will also allow districts more time to plan and manage budgets for potentially larger funding decreases in a few years.

"If it (Sebelius' plan) holds, it lets us know what's happening in the next few years," he said.

Under previous legislative proposals that came about in recent months, USD 234 and USD 235 faced cuts of $103 per student and $144 per student, respectively.

Two weeks ago, Sebelius signed off on a $300 million deficit reduction package to address shortfalls in the state budget this year.