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Kansas school finance task force has final meeting

By JOHN MILBURN

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- A task force created by Gov. Sam Brownback to review the Kansas system for funding public schools had its final meeting Monday, though teachers argue they were being left out of the discussions.

The task force was formed by the Republican governor to look at how funds are spent by school districts and identify areas for improving fiscal efficiency.

Brownback has said school districts should focus more of their resources on classroom instruction and find ways to reduce spending on functions that don't affect teaching. Some ideas that have been discussed are sharing administrative resources and purchasing power.

Members of the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, had a news conference Monday to lament the fact they were shut out of the task force's process. The teachers raised concerns the task force, legislators and Brownback appeared to be more concerned with financial efficiency than what teachers called educational effectiveness.

Karen Godfrey, a language arts teacher from Topeka and president of the KNEA, said school districts have made spending cuts in recent years that resulted in larger class sizes, fewer classroom supplies and loss of support staff such as counselors, janitors and librarians. The result has been that teachers use time that should be spent on instruction to clean classrooms or counsel students facing personal issues not related to schools.

Kansas spends more than $3 billion in state revenues on public schools each year.

The task force is expected to make recommendations to the governor for possible action in the legislative session that starts Jan. 14.

New figures available Monday from the Legislative Research Department indicate Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature will have to find new revenue or cut spending to close a projected $295 million shortfall in the 2014 budget. Much of the shortfall is the result of sweeping cuts in Kansas income taxes that take effect in January.