After the news that state revenues fell short $47 million dollars in January, Gov. Sam Brownback announced he will cut funding to public schools and universities to help keep the state from defaulting on its debt when fiscal year 2015 ends in June.
According to the Kansas Division of the Budget, K-12 public schools, through the Department of Education, will see a decrease of 1.5 percent in their budgets, while universities will be cut by 2 percent. Together, these cuts are estimated to save $44.5 million, which the governor intends to use to help keep the state solvent through 2015’s $344 million budget shortfall.
Even so, the budget for fiscal year 2016 (which begins July 1) is projected to fall short $600 million.
Many blame the state’s budget crisis on the deep income tax cuts the governor issued as a response to the 2007-09 recession. Even members of Brownback’s own party are worried about how deep these cuts will go.
“The key thing is that there is a direct cause and effect,” Sen. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said. “If state funding to universities and public schools continues to decrease, it’s my fear that those cuts will have to be offset by an increase in tuition and user fees. But even more so is the effect it will have on the education of those kids.”
The 2 percent reduction of university funding will result in a total $3.4 million cut to the budget of K-State for the current fiscal year. The administration is currently working on a plan to announce how the cuts will affect the university.
“We are still working on how the recent 2015 budget cuts announced by the governor will affect our campus, and plan on making a decision and announcing the plan to the campus around the first week of March,” Cindy Bontrager, vice president for administration and finance, said.
According to Bontrager, students can be assured that the cuts for this year will not affect tuition rates.
“This particular reduction is one-time and will not impact tuition rates or affect our enrollment,” Bontrager said. “We are continuing to monitor the legislature’s actions as they are working on the fiscal year 2016 and 2017 budgets.”
Though the cuts announced in February will negatively impact the university, it is the uncertainty and fear of deeper cuts for the next fiscal year that has the administration worried.
Reagan Kays, student body president, said he is concerned that the budgets for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 will have an effect on tuition rates.
“My worry is that when we have the budgets for 2016 and 2017 that it will directly affect tuition,” Kays said. “Our goal is to keep those rates as low as possible, but the fact is that tuition helps cover what we don’t get from the state.”
For public schools, the impact of the cuts may be even larger. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, state and local governments contribute to 92 percent of elementary and secondary education budgets. Without the ability to raise fees or tuition, cuts at the K-12 level will directly affect students’ education.
Brownback said he believes school districts will be able to work with the Kansas Department of Education to use reserve funding to offset the effects of the cuts.
“The dramatic increase in state education funding that has occurred over the last four years is unsustainable,” Brownback said in a Feb. 5 press release. “School districts are estimated to have approximately $381 million in reserve fund balances to help them offset the smaller than expected increase in state funding. The Kansas Department of Education should work with school districts to help them with any cash flow challenges that may arise.”
Though the department of education does have funds to help school districts deal with the cuts, schools across the state still must find ways to reduce their expenditures by the end of the fiscal year. Districts such as USD 383 in Manhattan are working to address the cuts in ways that will have the least impact on student’s education.
“What we have started looking at is the operational aspect of everything we do,” Robert Shannon, USD 383 superintendent, said. “We are about halfway through the process and no decisions have been made. What we’re trying to find are things that won’t have that impact on education. I would estimate that we will know by late April or early May.”
For fiscal year 2016, school districts are expected to face the challenge of more spending cuts as well as a change in how schools can form their budgets.
“Next year’s (budget) hasn’t been put together and when it is we don’t know the framework of the rules for making the budget; it will change,” Shannon said.
There is still a chance that public schools may be able to retain the funds that have been cut from their budgets. In December 2014, a group of school districts filed suit against the government for letting state funding of public schools fall below the level required by the Kansas Constitution. The decision has made its way to the Kansas Supreme Court, and if the court’s verdict is in favor it could order the government to increase spending on public schools.
When the Governor’s office was contacted for comments, the Kansas State Collegian was initially told to call back later to reach Gov. Brownback for comment. Later inquiry resulted in being told the governor was unavailable and that official comments had to come from him.