Kan. delays school aid, suspends senior services

AP News
Posted: Jan 05, 2010 5:45 PM

Kansas is delaying $200 million in aid payments to public schools this month and has suspended some services for hundreds of frail seniors because of its ongoing financial problems, officials said Tuesday.

Budget Director Duane Goossen confirmed that for the third consecutive month, state government will delay funds for its 295 school districts, so that it can make its payroll and pay other bills on time this week. State officials expect nearly 100 districts to be forced to violate cash management laws to pay their bills.

The payments to schools, representing part of general aid to school districts, were due Friday, the first day of the new year.

Goossen said the state hopes to make half the payments by the end of the week. But he said it doesn't expect to pay the rest until the end of January because it won't collect enough tax revenues in its main bank account until then.

"It depends on how fast money comes in," Goossen told The Associated Press. "These bills will be paid. It's just that we don't have the cash right now to do it."

Separately, the Department on Aging announced it is reducing services for about 550 frail seniors to save about $625,000 through June 30.

The department no longer will cover dental services or items such as grab bars and bath benches for frail seniors. Also, it has stopped providing aides to monitor seniors overnight in their homes or help them with tasks such as reading mail or writing letters.

Secretary Martin Kennedy said the department will restore such services when money because available, "But we can't continue to provide them and stay within our budget."

The state's financial juggling comes as legislators, Gov. Mark Parkinson and other officials wrestle with the state's ongoing budget problems. Legislators are scheduled to open their 90-day annual session Monday, and their biggest task will be heading off a projected budget shortfall.

The state delayed general aid payments to schools in November, with half the funds not arriving until early December. It also postponed general aid payments and special education funding in December.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said a third of school districts probably will be forced to violate state laws that govern how they're supposed to manage various accounts.

"The state really needs to step up and honor its commitments," said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. "This is shameful."

But Goossen said delaying payments to public schools will allow state government to cover $25 million in payroll expenses this week. Also, he said, the state will make $35 million in aid payments to community colleges on time and pay health care providers $24 million for services to needy Kansans in the Medicaid program.

Meanwhile, state Sens. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, and John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, proposed change in the Kansas Constitution to create a "rainy day" fund to help with future budget problems.

It's a variation on other, unsuccessful proposals made in the past, but the measure quickly received Parkinson's endorsement.