TOPEKA, Kan. – Cash-strapped school districts may soon be able to dip into some $378 million in accounts that are currently off-limits to counterbalance state budget cuts.
The Kansas House gave initial approval Wednesday to House Bill 111, which would free tied up money in accounts set aside for bilingual education, virtual education, driver training, professional development, parents as teachers, summer school, vocational education, four year old and K-12 at risk, and contingency reserve. Up to a third of the balances in textbook rental and special education could be redirected for general education as well, at the discretion of the school districts.
“These are totally unencumbered funds, since 2005 the history of the balances that remain in each fiscal year in each of these funds have been consistently strong– in the millions at the end of each year,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Republican from Hutchinson who carried the bill on the House floor.
During floor debate, opponents voiced concerns that the legislation wouldn’t fix any long-term funding problems, but would hurt students in districts that have already spent down the money in those accounts on their designated purpose. The Kansas Constitution requires that all students receive an equitable education.
“All we’re doing to robbing Peter to pay Paul, it does not fund education anymore, it shifts funding,” said Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Democrat from Winfield.
But O’Neal responded that removing restrictions on how money can be spent creates no more inequality than the formula by which funds are distributed to districts in the first place.
“It’s not new money, if you have a district that has a balance, it’s a balance they’ve chosen to have that was distributed to them through existing formula,” O’Neal said.
Under the bill, the expenditure of money from the various funding silos would be left up to local school boards.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita said it’s hypocritical for the state to attempt an ending balance in its own spending plan, but then allow school districts to spend down accounts that local board usually have to use the accounts to manage cash when the state sends out aid payments late.
“That’s an irresponsible use of money,” Ward said.
But O’Neal said the unencumbered funds are completely up to the local boards to use as they see fit.
“There’s not a thing in the bill that requires school districts to spend it,” O’Neal said.
An amendment brought by Rep. Pat Colloton, a Republican from Leawood, would let districts use money set aside for capital outlay to pay for fire, casualty and property insurance premiums, freeing up money in maintenance funds to put towards instruction. The amendment was approved 77 to 44.
“The concept of this bill is let’s let them shift stuff around,” Colloton said.
Final cuts for the portion of base state aid each student draws are still being negotiated, but as it currently stands, it would drop from $4,012 down to $3,763 for the rest of the fiscal year ending June 30. Base state aid per pupil within the 2012 budget proposals range from $3,762 in the House’s version, up to $3,786 in Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget plan; The Senate’s proposal, $3,786 falls in the middle.
Base state aid per pupil is among multiple other funding sources each school district receives.
The Senate approved a similar bill during the 2010 legislative session.
A final vote on the bill is expected Thursday.
Schools Have Funds to Easily Cover Governor’s Cuts (kansaswatchdog.org)
Unencumbered Cash Balance Growth, Disparity Undercuts Funding Claims (kansaswatchdog.org)
Truth Emerging on Unencumbered K-12 Education Funds (kansaswatchdog.org)
House Panel Recommends Tapping Unencumbered School Funds (kansaswatchdog.org)
Carryover Cash and Consolidation Hot Topics Before Kansas Board of Education (kansaswatchdog.org)
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