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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Money for Schools, Higher Ed Linked in Kansas Budget

By JOHN HANNA - The Associated Press

March 26, 2009

TOPEKA | Aid to public schools and higher education funding became linked as issues Thursday in negotiations among Kansas legislators over the next state budget.

House and Senate negotiators said the state would jeopardize federal stimulus dollars for education if it cut higher education budgets far more deeply than public school aid. But that's exactly what both chambers have proposed doing, although in different ways.

Both Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Republican-controlled Legislature view stimulus dollars as crucial to preventing a budget deficit during the state's 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Negotiators were in the second day of talks Thursday over the final version of the $13 billion spending plan. School aid and higher education funding are key issues, and the imbalance between how they're treated has complicated the discussions.

"It's actually a pretty serious issue," said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat and one of the negotiators. "Our ability to draw down the stimulus funds depends on us getting it right."

Legislative leaders have projected that the state will end fiscal 2010 with a $682 million deficit if it attempts to duplicate its current budget without stimulus funds or other adjustments. Sebelius' recommendations and the two chambers' rival budgets rely on $585 million in stimulus funds, along with spending cuts and other adjustments, to balance the budget.

Sebelius has sought to avoid reducing the state's $3.77 billion in aid to its 295 school districts, and the Senate has adopted her position. The House approved a cut of almost $26 million, or 0.7 percent.

"The issue is whether they accept K-12 cuts, which then affects the higher education cuts," said Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, his chamber's lead negotiator.

State funding for university, community college and technical college operating budgets is about $773 million under the current budget. The House proposed cutting them an additional $29 million, or 4 percent, while the Senate's proposed cut is almost $63 million, or 8 percent.

Negotiators said neither chamber's balance between public schools and higher education would be acceptable under the federal stimulus law, which limits how deeply states can cut one compared to the other.

"It's all about the proportionality issue," said Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, and his chamber's lead negotiator.

But public school lobbyists still are trying to avoid cuts, arguing that the budget still will balance if K-12 funding isn't reduced and legislators back off big reductions for higher education.

Meanwhile, higher education officials are lobbying to lessen the cuts they'll face, saying even the House's lesser amounts will hurt programs, coming on the heels of a downward revision of the fiscal 2009 budget in February.

Student leaders at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University said in a statement that students understand the need for "reasonable" cuts but believe those endorsed by the House and Senate are excessive.

"We'll have larger class sizes, fewer courses available and very likely higher tuition," the student leaders said in their statement.

House budget is HB 2373. Senate budget is Senate Sub for HB 2354.