Have you noticed that some of the same people who say the State should spend its surplus balance have a completely opposite opinion about school districts?
Today’s story in the Topeka Capital-Journal about House Appropriations recommendations on school funding misstates what was actually proposed. School funding would not be 'cut' in the sense that money is taken away. As explained today in the Wichita Eagle, the Governor's budget proposed adding $29 million this year and the House Appropriations action is simply eliminating the proposed increase.
The rationale for not increasing funding is that districts already have the money in carryover cash reserves – state and local tax dollars provided in prior years that were not spent. Legislation passed last year gives districts the authority to transfer up to $154 million to current operations this year and to date, only $24 million of that authority has been exercised. Even if districts used the entire $154 million, they would still have about $700 million left over, plus another $837 million in Capital Outlay and Debt Service funds.
School districts' balances in their current operating funds have increased 90% over the last six years, going from $458 million to $868 million. Those balances increased every single year, which means districts didn't spend all of their tax dollars...every single year.
All government entities need some degree of surplus balances but district balances are much larger than state balances. And not just in total dollars. The state's goal is to have the statutorily required ending balance equal to 7.5% of General Fund expenditures. School districts' ending balances in their current operating funds (everything but capital and debt service) represented 11.7% of current expenditures in 2006 and increased to 16.0% by 2011. The current reserve ratio is somewhere between 16.6% and 18.8%, depending upon which budget figures one uses from KSDE. Carryover cash reserve balances by district are available on KansasOpenGov.org.
We agree that excess reserves should be used to fund current operations instead of taking more money from taxpayers. Those who believe the State of Kansas should give some of it's relatively small surplus to school districts should be consistent and call for school districts to tap their own large reserves instead of asking taxpayers for more money.