USD 234 officials watching legislative action on funding

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

USD 234 officials are watching the current legislative session and actions that could affect school funding.

During Monday's USD 234 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Bob Beckham and Business Manager Gina Shelton reported they have had recent discussions with area lawmakers who are in the midst of hashing out plans to balance the state budget. The legislative session began in January.

Several bills have been talked about in recent weeks, including a Senate bill introduced last week that would cut K-12 funding by 5 percent, or $128 million. That plan stalled before a debate took place.

Proposed legislative plans range from raising taxes to cutting spending. Legislators have said they also plan to work this session on a new school funding formula.

"I've heard everything from a huge windfall in Southeast Kansas to horrible cuts to Southeast Kansas," Beckham said.

Beckham and Shelton said they recently talked with District 12 Sen. Caryn Tyson, and District 4 Rep. Trevor Jacobs, both Republicans, about the school funding talks.

"They listened," Beckham said. "I also got an email from (District 13 Sen.) Jake LaTurner. He wants to protect schools and that is encouraging ... ultimately, we want to meet the needs of students."

Lawmakers are pushing a new plan to balance the state's budget without cutting school funding. The House Appropriations Committee endorsed a bill Monday that would liquidate a state investment portfolio and loan most of the proceeds from selling its assets to the state's main account to cover operating expenses through June 30. The full House was expected to debate the measure this week.

Beckham and Shelton said it's important for constituents concerned about education funding cuts to lobby in Topeka and be in contact with local lawmakers.

"We had a positive meeting with legislators," Shelton said. "I cannot stress enough the importance of constituents contacting legislators."

Shelton said the proposed legislation that was recently tabled would cut about $500,000 from the general state aid the district receives through the two-year block grant funding put in place in 2015. She said that represents a "huge amount" for the district with operating budgets already at reduced levels.

General state aid for the district is about $10 million. The district also has about $1.2 million in flexible funds. Some legislators have said school districts could absorb cuts in the current year by using cash balances.

"Each 1 percent cut is $100,000," Shelton said.

State lawmakers must close a projected shortfall of about $320 million by June 30, and Kansas faces total gaps in funding in existing programs of nearly $1.1 billion through June 2019.