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Higher education funding level could threaten state's education COVID response funding

Posted Date: 05/03/2021

Higher education funding level could threaten state's education COVID response funding

Millions of dollars to help schools respond to COVID-19 could be in jeopardy because higher education hasn't kept up with the rest of the state budget, according to state fiscal experts.  

That is a new issue to complicate passage of a budget for K12 education and potential tax cuts as the Kansas Legislature returns for the final “veto session” beginning today. 

The two most recent federal relief packages (the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed in December and American Rescue Plan Act) require that states maintain both K-12 education and higher education state funding at the level percentage of their budgets. If not, states may be penalized by losing some portion of both K-12 and higher education aid. 

Because total state spending is increasing faster than education higher education funding, budget analysts say Kansas higher education funding may be over $100 million short of the required percentage. 

Part of the reason the rest of the budget is increasing is the phase-in of the Gannon school finance plan, designed to restore K12 general operating aid to inflation-adjusted 2009 levels; increased funding to address the unfunded liability of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, including school employee pensions, and higher state human services caseloads. 

These estimates are based on the higher education budget passed by the Legislature for the current year and next year earlier this session, and the Governor’s recommendations for K12 funding based the Gannon school finance approved by the Legislature and Kansas Supreme Court. The K12 budget was separated from the rest of the state budget and bundled with expanded aid to private schools and other education policy changes in SB 175, which failed on a tie vote in the Senate at the end of the regular session. 

In a memo to legislators, Adam Proffitt, director of the Kansas Division of the Budget, recommends increasing funding for higher education by $53 million for the next fiscal year and $106 million for fiscal year 2023.  

“If Kansas is to be found out of compliance with the MOE (maintenance of effort) for either Higher Ed or K-12, then it risks losing federal funding for both K-12 and Higher Ed,” Proffitt wrote. 

The announcement of the need to increase higher education funding to avoid federal penalties could also affect debates this week on tax cuts. Republican leaders are pushing to override a veto of tax cuts that Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has said would hurt the state’s abilities to fund its obligations.