Troubles in the Kansas budget have quite worrisome implications for our state’s future. Kansas revenue dropped precipitously after the implementation of dramatic tax policy changes, causing budget problems that already affect Kansas classrooms and other state services, but the profound effect is yet to come.

Education funding for students has dropped already, but with school finance such a large part of the state’s general fund spending—50 percent—it’s a likely target for even more cuts as lawmakers struggle with a very large budget imbalance.

A quick run through the numbers: In the just completed fiscal year 2014, state revenue dropped $688 million from the year before, and Kansas spent $329 million more than it took in. Now, three months into fiscal year 2015, revenue remains below last year’s levels, placing the state on a track to spend more than $650 million above receipts. Except, that cannot happen. The state’s savings account does not have enough money left to cover the difference between rising expenses and falling revenue.

Somehow revenue and expenses will have to be brought back together this year and in future years, but the fix is far from simple. Even more income tax rate reductions are scheduled to kick in all the way through 2018, further depressing receipts, but spending reductions have already brought the base amount per pupil for funding schools down $548 from where it once was.

Why is this important? Won’t lawmakers solve this?

Yes, they must find a solution, but the magnitude of the problem is so large that all of the state’s political energy will be required to address it. Our efforts as a state must now go toward figuring out how to downsize, how to cut back, how to get by, rather than develop and grow. Our neighboring states are being given an opportunity to push past us.

Other states ask: “How can we invest to make our schools the best?” while in Kansas we try to figure out how to get even more kids into a classroom.

No area is more important than public education. Kansas has enjoyed excellent schools which have attracted newcomers to the state and kept people here. Yet, in the present environment, schools have had to pull back, and the state’s financial outlook does not leave a way to fix that, or invest and improve.

— Duane Goossen, Topeka, Former Kansas Budget Director for three Kansas governors