Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget sparked immediate backlash Wednesday as members of his own party questioned the wisdom of his proposed massive increase in spending on K-12 education he promised would not be accompanied by a tax increase.
Brownback’s budget director Shawn Sullivan presented a budget plan to the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees that would phase in $600 million in K-12 education spending and boost other departments. Sullivan took fire from legislators over the budget he said would become more challenging to fund in coming years.
“I think we’re under water in 2020 if nothing else bad happens to us,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said.
Brownback’s K-12 plan, announced at his State of the State address, was the most controversial element of his budget. It would dedicate another $513 million to schools, phased in over five years. It adds to the $87 million in spending legislators passed for next school year. The plan would put about $200 in schools next year and $100 in each year following.
Brownback said “the court should not substitute its decision for that of the Legislature” when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state’s current school funding plan unconstitutional in October.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, fired back with a statement calling Brownback’s administration hypocritical for its denouncement last year of excessive spending on the part of the Legislature. Brownback accused legislators of spending on a wish list of budget items.
The budgets for this year and next balance only by further delaying state payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and drawing from the Kansas Department of Transportation. If legislators want to stop sweeping and delaying those funds, they’ll face a budget hole in 2020 even without a hike in school spending.
The Brownback plan would add $34 million in spending during the current fiscal year and leave the state government with a projected $266 million ending balance on June 30. In the next fiscal year, Brownback proposed to boost state spending by $290 million and leave $150 million in June 2019.
Brownback’s education proposal calls for Kansas public school districts to increase average teacher salaries above the average in each of the four surrounding states by mid-2019. The Kansas average, Sullivan said, stood at $47,755. He expects the state to easily top Missouri’s average of $47,900 before attempting to surpass the Nebraska average of $51,380.
The governor also recommended new state spending on schools be used to add 150 school counselors or psychologists each year.
He suggested every Kansas high school student be offered 15 hours of dual high school-college credit at no cost. If 80 percent of Kansas high school students participated in the program, it would cost about $24 million.
Brownback would earmark $2.1 million to expand college tuition assistance for the Kansas National Guard. He would add 13 positions at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for $1.3 million.