DALLAS — A more vigorous private sector in Kansas created by recent state tax cuts will overcome a feared drop in state aid to local school districts, Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday.
"Growth is the key to education funding," Brownback said at a news conference at the statehouse in Topeka. "The best way to fund education is to grow the economy."
The 2012 Legislature cut the top individual income tax rate to 4.9% from the current 6.45% effective Jan. 1, 2013. The measure also eliminated the income tax liability of almost 200,000 small businesses.
An analysis of the tax cuts by the Kansas Legislative Research Department said the lower rate would reduce state tax collections by $231 million in fiscal 2013 and as much as $2.5 billion through fiscal 2018.
Brownback, a Republican, disputed what he called "scare tactics" by Democratic candidates warning that the lower state funding for local education will result in higher property taxes.
"The people raising this are the same people that left me a $500 million budget hole when I took office (in 2011)," he said.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said recent increases in state revenues could have allowed Brownback could to restore the spending cuts, but he opted for a tax decrease instead.
"It's time for the elected leaders of Topeka to provide the people of Kansas with some straight talk," Davis said. "The cuts are coming, and they're coming as a result of the Brownback tax plan that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Kansans."
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said local taxpayers will have to make up the school money lost through the income tax cut.
"You can't grow the economy and get yourself out of what essentially is a self-made budget crisis because of this tax plan," Hensley said.
The state's per-student stipend has fallen from $3,937 in fiscal 2011 to $3,780 in fiscal 2012. The allocation is set at $3,838 in fiscal 2013.
Per-student funding peaked at $4,374 in fiscal 2008.
Brownback said he expects the School Efficiency Task Force he appointed last month will find ways to improve the efficiency of educational spending.
Only 15 of the state's 286 school districts have attained the goal of allocating 65% of state aid to classroom instruction, Brownback said.
The average district spends 54% of state funds on instruction, Brownback said.
If the school task force can identify a 10% reduction in overhead costs, he said, the state would save $250 million a year. That would allow the hiring of 3,000 additional teachers, Brownback said.
The 10-member panel met for the first time earlier this week, and is set to meet again Nov. 9. It will present its findings and recommendations when the 2013 Legislature convenes in January.
An analysis by the Kansas State Department of Education said when debt service and capital outlays are taken out, local districts spend 62% of their state allocation on instruction.