Following is a press release from Kansas Representative Joe Patton, a Republican who represents parts of southwest Topeka and Shawnee County. He touches on a wide range of Kansas school finance topics, including the level of spending, the amount of taxes Kansas businesses pay, the cost of a tax increase, and the amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in the system.
Recently I received an email from a concerned young mother of grade school children about education. I called her and asked if I could sit down with her and her husband to listen to their concerns. I spent several hours one Sunday afternoon at their home as they shared their concerns about their children’s education. I listened and shared with them the budget facts we have to deal with this session. With this letter I invite you to become part of our conversation.
I’m sure you have heard media accounts about the “budget crisis”. I want to provide you the very best information I can so I can get your input. I’m sure together we can get through these stormy waters. I fought to cut my own pay 10%, the final law cut it 5%. Still legislative cuts are part of the solution. I believe in working together in a reasonable way to solve these problems with bipartisan solutions. As your State Representative, I want to make sure everyone — parents, grandparents, teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members — are in the loop when it comes to the latest and most accurate budget information we have concerning the schools.
Rest assured that I believe that education is a high priority. It is just common sense. Public education is important because our children are important. Upon taking office I voted for the largest increase of education funding in history, at a time, when we had the funds. The situation is different now. If we have to the increase in education spending, I believe education should be hit less than some other areas of government because it has a high priority. While education is a high priority it is not our only priority. Funding for K-12 education is more than 52% of our state’s budget. If you add all of K-12 education funding ($3.7 billion) with Medicaid and social services ($1.2 billion) that is about two thirds of the total budget. If we held education harmless, the rest of the cuts would be severe.
You may have heard some of the near hysterical partisan attacks. These partisan attacks are designed to create emotional shock and are not helpful in solving real problems.
Here are the facts. The state is out of money. We are short nearly $500 million dollars.
We have three options:
1. We can cut the budget.
2. We can increase taxes.
3. We can grow the economy and raise revenues.
First, we can cut the budget. Let’s look at the situation now with the education budget. When you compare recent budget cuts of the top four areas of funding based on percentages, our schools have been affected the least. Schools are now receiving about 30% more compared to their funding a few years ago. No other branch of government has received this level of increases.
You no doubt have heard that the slowdown in the increase education spending have reduced funding for the base per pupil figure to $4,012, a 9.5% reduction. While true this is not the end of the story. The base figure is just the start of the school funding formula. Actually, schools received on average $12,353 per pupil as of November, 2009. That’s down just 2.42% from the previous year. In 2009 total funds, including federal funds went up from 3.6 billion to 3.7 billion, a 1.8% increase. Keep in mind, however, that often federal funds come with strings attached which limits how the funds can be used. I’m told by Legislative Research that Auburn Washburn USD 437 has State aid of $5,054 per student, total expenditures per student is $10,518.00, down 3.01%. I’m also told by Legislative Research that Topeka Public Schools USD 501 has state aid of $7,008 with total expenditures per student of $12,198, down 4.86%.
Have the past legislatures cut the taxes too much? Here are the facts:
Prior to the recession, state general fund tax receipts grew 40% from FY 2001 to FY 2008,about twice the rate of inflation.
During that period, taxes paid exclusively by businesses rose 83%.
If state general fund spending had been held to a 4.5% increase over each of the last five years, we would have finished FY 2009 with a $3 billion surplus. Instead, the average increase was nearly double.
Property taxes increased 92% statewide between 1997 and 2008; collections on residential and Commercial & Industrial property increased 130% and 127% respectively.
Some have indicated they could accept a small tax increase. A small increase will not solve the problem.
The Kansas Governor is proposing the largest tax increase in the history of our state. I have heard proposals that include an increase in property tax, tobacco taxes, alcohol taxes, taxing churches, non profits, girl scout cookies and removing the state sales tax exemption on your electric and gas bills.
What is the real cost of a tax increase?
Such a dramatic increase in taxes is the governor’s solution but it comes with a price. A well-respected economics expert from KU indicated an economic model shows this tax increase would cost us 26,000 jobs. That is to say 26,000 people would be laid off and new jobs not created. He reaches this opinion from exhaustive analysis of our situation and past historical trends. Let me explain. There is only so much money out there. When the money is in your hands you make choices that promote the economy and jobs are created. If businesses are being successful they “dive right in” and they create jobs.
When the government takes the money, it is making different choices for the use of that money to maintain its own budget, not to create private sector jobs. It’s a trade off. It’s like water in a swimming hole. As long as water is coming in you can pump some water out. But if you keep pumping water out during a drought, at some point the water level will be so low people are not going to dive in anymore. Pulling money out of the economy with taxes is like that. Do we want to create or kill jobs in a recession?
There are human costs as well. An increase in the tax on electric, gas and water bills would really hurt seniors on fixed incomes and families struggling to make ends meet.
Disgusted by the waste
What options do we have? We can work together to make every state agency, including schools, more efficient. We have good administrators locally that are making the best of a difficult situation. Our local school districts are taking steps to become more efficient, and that is good. Statewide we hear a different story. A legislative research group that works for you and the legislature called the Legislative Post Audit issued 80 recommendations of ways schools could save millions without impacting services. Lawmakers offered to have the Legislative Post Audit perform individual audits for school districts. Only a handful took us up on the offer but those that did volunteer for free efficiency audits this year saved millions. These efficiency audits can help us find ways we can avoid service cuts and tax increases. We have hundreds of schools districts, some with just a few hundred students. These very small districts are costing you over $30,000.00 per year per student to educate. Each district has administrators with six figure incomes. Another measure of the financial situation of schools is the amount of money they have available right now. School districts have over $1.4 billion dollars in unencumbered cash, and that figure has gone up dramatically in recent years. State wide school districts have only reduced staffing by 875 positions. This amounts to less than 3 positions per district. As Kansas schools see an average decline in enrollment, average superintendent salaries continue to rise. So we have a long way to go before the system is efficient.
Fraud and abuse
There is more to the story, consider the fraud and abuse. Let me be clear, we are blessed with good ethical superintendents and administrators locally. However statewide, there are some problems, … some serious problems. You only had to look at last week’s newspaper’s editorial which highlighted that certain school districts cheated our system that was to distribute funding to the severely developmental disabled public school students. Three rich districts were “gaming” the system to grab nearly $8 million of your tax dollars, while Topeka only received $211,695.00. Or consider the fraud in the “free lunch” program, the more students in the free program the more taxpayer money the school district gets. Based on our statewide random sample, 17% free-lunch students counted for at-risk funding weren’t eligible for free lunches. As a result, the State overpaid nearly $19 million in at-risk funds. The numbers are going up and are shocking. One legislator from a rich district during a hearing asked the district representative “How can these numbers be accurate, we don’t have that many poor people in the entire district!” Or how about the military districts? They get to count the number of students twice rather than just at the first of the year. In the second count they add the new students that moved in, without subtracting for the students that moved out. They get paid extra to educate students that are not even there! I could go on and on. We demand reform and accountability and they sue us instead, using your taxes to pay the lawyers. We can do better.
In a recession our focus this session must be on creating jobs. I firmly believe creating new businesses and new jobs will also increase state revenue. We need to position Kansas to be as competitive as possible to attract and retain jobs. We need to get through these hard times and revive the economy which would generate more revenue for schools. I vote for job growth. While working for job growth and corresponding revenue growth, I will work to protect education from drastic cuts and fight for accountability.
I am confident that if we work together and have open and honest discussions about our state’s budget crisis without partisan bickering, we can come to a solution that will help our schools excel. Let me know your thoughts. My email address is [email protected]