November 28, 2014

Stimulus funds won’t mean big boost for GE

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Although Kansas will soon receive approximately $92 million in stimulus funds for education spending courtesy of recently passed federal legislation,

Eric Hansen, Gardner Edgerton Business Director, doesn’t believe that will translate into buckets of extra money for the GE District.

“It’s not going to be a windfall,” Hansen said. “It will just be supplanting or replacing aid that would’ve otherwise been required to be provided by the state.”

State and federal officials are still hammering out details of the legislation, so Hansen said the district doesn’t know how much if any of the federal funds will be added to the bottom line  in the GE District.

Gardner Elementary School students work at their desks during the first day of school. Staff photo by Corbin Crable

The legislation includes maintenance of effort regulations which require that the state not use the funds to offset expenses in other areas. The legislation stipulates the funding be used for teacher salaries and benefits. Hansen said from the little he’s learned so far, the state is likely to use the money for education funding already accounted for in the 2011 state budget.

“What will happen is the state will basically use these funds for state aid they already intended to give to us,” Hansen said. “I’m sure that’s what’s going to happen. It’s not going to be a matter of us saying everyone gets a bonus this year. I’m almost certain of that.”

Whatever money is funneled to local districts will be divided among the 240 school districts  with approximately 450,000 public school students in Kansas.

State Sen. Karin Brownlee, who represents Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill, said legislators will likely have no say in how the additional federal funds – which include an additional $87 million in matching federal Medicaid dollars – will be spent.

“The Legislature will not be making these decisions,” Brownlee said. “It will be the administration – meaning Gov. Parkinson’s administration and his agency head.”

That is a cause of concern for Brownlee.

“We have these sums of money that the Legislature is not involved in directing where they go and $92 million is a huge sum in Kansas,” she said.

She’s also concerned that if the funds are indeed used to increase teacher salaries and benefits or to hire new teachers – that will be an ongoing annual expense legislators will have to fund the following year.

“How long does this money last? If we just have it one year, that is assuming a tremendous amount of growth in the economy,” she said.

In 2010, state revenues dropped by more than 7 percent. The growth isn’t there, Brownlee said.

“When we’ve had the declines we’ve had in the past year, we can not assume our economy is going to make up that to continue paying the educators,” she said.

But Hansen said the money is unlikely to be used for teacher raises and new hiring. Although districts have received funding over the last few years from federal stimulus dollars, Hansen said overall spending is down.

“Despite the amount of money we’ve received from the feds, we still spent $2 million less locally,” Hansen said. “We still had to make up a $2 million shortfall. Had the feds not stepped in, that hole would’ve been much greater.”

It presents a situation where sooner or later the state may tell districts it can’t give them what they’re accustomed to, however, Hansen said.

“In some respects, it’s almost prolonging the inevitable,” he said. “But on the flip side, I can see what the feds are thinking. If they can get the economy turned around then maybe in the meantime, the state can bring the level of funding back up.”

Clearly, Brownlee said, the funding is money the U.S. doesn’t have.

“In a purist sense, we should have declined all of the stimulus money,” she said. “We know our country doesn’t have this money. We can’t keep going the direction we’re going. The debt is going to eat us alive.”

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