School funding was a main topic at the Blue Moon Coffee House Wednesday morning as Sen. Mitch Holmes and Rep. Greg Lewis held a town hall meeting to discuss issues in Topeka.
Holmes said a lot of people were working on a new funding formula for education. He would like to see a more stable formula that doesn’t vary so much with changes in student population.
Instead of weighted base state aid per pupil, he would prefer base state aid per subject.
Mike Sanders, Skyline Superintendent, said any subject would have to have a full time teacher regardless the number of students. It’s not like college where a class can be pulled if it doesn’t have enough students.
Holmes said the funding solution would have to include every angle. Sanders encouraged Holmes to make sure educators are involved in the process. He also wondered if KDOT could be well funded why can’t legislators come up with a successful funding plan for education. Holmes said KDOT gets other funding resources like the gas tax.
Former USD 382 Superintendent Glen Davis said the old formula had all the pieces but it was just never funded.
Current USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton asked if projected state revenues fell short if schools could expect more cuts in the current budget.
“I fear another cut,” Patton said.
Holmes said he didn’t think that would happen but did say that March sales tax revenues were down.
A change in voting months is under debate. Holmes said people that vote in November rather than in April tend to be more informed on issues. They also come out in better numbers hitting from 35 to 45 percent as opposed to 6 to 10 percent in April. The Tuesday election only had 7.2 percent turnout.
Lewis said in his short time in Topeka, he has seen enough to know that things have to change. Legislators seem to have their backs against the wall and are not going to change their minds.
“They are digging a hole and I wish they would stop digging,” Lewis said.
One of the first things he learned was taking money from one program like Kansas Department of Transportation and moving it to another, like education, was not “stealing” but “sweeping funds.” He had heard over $1 million had been swept from KDOT but found out it was higher than that.
Lewis said the Legislature was working on a $1 billion bond for KPERS that is supposed to stabilize the program over a 30-year period. But Lewis doesn’t favor it because it can’t be adjusted.
He has not seen the anticipated business growth from the governor’s tax breaks. He is seeing more of a tax burden placed on lower income families as they have to spend more money on consumables.
As far as the budget is concerned, Lewis said everything has to be on the table for consideration.
Since he has much to learn, he craves for his constituents to send him information so he will have as many “arrows in his quiver” to do his job.
In his short time in Topeka, he learned there are a lot of shades of gray. But he has met some good people that are working hard for the best interests of Kansas.
Holmes said the Legislature has passed very few bills this session. Normally they have about 200 passed but so far the Senate is just now approaching 100 bills and the House has around 35. In the Ethics and Elections committee, seven or eight bills were passed in the Senate but never came up for debate in the House while 13 House bills have not been debated in the Senate.
Holmes is hearing more and more from storeowners in favor “uncork Kansas” that would allow spirit sales in grocery stores. However he isn’t hearing much from the voters. Personally he doesn’t favor it but expects it will be just a matter of time before it happens.
On the KPERS bonding issue, KPERS currently has $14 billion but needs to be at $21 billion to cover 80 percent of everyone working that is in KPERS. Currently, 60 percent are covered. The current bond would put another $1 billion in the program that would be paid off in 2033. This puts KPERS on the right trajectory.