The state's deputy education commissioner for finance on Thursday told a legislative panel that increased reporting requirements continue to cause trouble for Kansas school districts.
Dale Dennis told members of the Legislative Education Planning Commission that districts are spending more time filling out forms to comply with state and federal requirements, such as basic budgeting and assistance programs.
The latest example, he said, was new requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report monthly on food service programs and what districts are spending.
Dennis also gave an update on how school districts are using reserve accounts by districts to offset this year's $232 per-student cut in state aid to schools, the third consecutive year that state per-student funding had declined. The loss of funding and continued declining enrollment in predominantly rural districts continues to fuel district consolidation.
There are 286 districts in Kansas, down three from last year and nearly 20 from a decade ago. Legislators have approved changes in state law to give districts an incentive to consolidate, such as allowing the new district to base their budgets on the combined total when the two were independent.
"The laws work pretty well, and it varies," Dennis said. "The idea is to encourage (consolidation) before you get too small."
In 2005, base aid was $4,257 per student, increasing to $4,400 after legislators responded to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the state's funding system unconstitutional. Legislators approved $1 billion in funding increases over three years, but those gains were largely eliminated when the Great Recession took its toll on state revenues.
The rate is $3,780 per student for the current school year. But to offset the impact of the cuts, legislators approved changes in the accounting laws so districts could access contingency reserve funds.
Reserve funds are set aside for emergencies or capital improvements, but districts are tapping into them for such routine expenses as salaries, utilities and supplies.
The State Board of Education has approved a request it sent to Gov. Sam Brownback to fund public schools at the levels specified in law, an increase of more than $600 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012.