Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lawmakers! Put the Money in the Classroom

By Duane Goossen

If you own a car, you know there are a bunch things to pay for: taxes and tags, insurance, oil changes, tires, and probably monthly installment payments. You also have to buy gas. Even if you spend a lot of money on those other things, without gas the car won’t go far.

The same is true for public schools in Kansas.

Producing high quality education requires buildings, computers, school lunches, and a retirement program for teachers. But it also requires classroom operating funds — the gas. Over the last six years, Kansas has let up on the gas for education, and the danger of more cuts is now quite high.

The best measure for judging whether Kansas is letting up or pushing down on the education gas pedal is Base Aid Per Pupil (BAPP). The main operating budget of each school district is determined by BAPP multiplied by the number of students. That basic budget is funded by a 20 mill statewide property tax levy which raises just under $600 million in FY 2015, and by “general state aid” from the Kansas general fund. During the past six years, the amount of money for general state aid has decreased, while the number of pupils has increased, leaving the BAPP $548 — or 12 percent — lower than it was in 2009.

The chart below lists the major areas of school funding provided by Kansas and the federal government. The first line shows the General State Aid drop.
Note that some areas of school funding have gone up, which has enabled Gov. Brownback to claim that total school funding is growing, even though the critical money for “gas” has been cut.

Kansas lawmakers have little discretion on most items in the chart:
  • Last spring the Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to increase Supplemental Aid, which provides a partial match to local property taxes to help less wealthy school districts fund local option budgets. 
  • Federal rules require Special Education to be maintained at minimum levels.
  • The state pays the employer share of Retirement costs for teachers and must increase that amount each year.
  • Some school districts receive state Bond and Interest Aid to help make loan payments on buildings, a promise to those districts that cannot be easily broken. 
Lawmakers do have discretion over general state aid, and they have chosen to let it decline. The result: classroom sizes are growing and Kansas districts are less able to competitively attract and retain high-caliber teachers.

As the budget debates heat up, keep your eye on Base Aid Per Pupil — the gas that runs the education system. Simply maintaining the present level is not good enough, especially given that the BAPP has fallen for years while classroom sizes have grown.

For the future of our state, our governor and legislators should be pushing the BAPP back up.

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