New data from the Department of Education shows outstanding school district debt set a new record at $6.1 billion last year. The average debt per-pupil (only counting enrollment at districts with debt) is $14,715. Total debt outstanding and the amount per-pupil for each district can be downloaded here at KansasOpenGov.org. District-level reports on debt issued by year and total debts payments are also on the site.
Districts issued $905 million in new bonded indebtedness last year and retired $263 million, for a net debt increase of $642 million. School district debt has nearly doubled since 2005, when it was $3.2 billion. School bond levies must be approved by district voters and the proceeds are typically used for new construction and facilities remodeling.
School district debt is paid strictly by district residents in some cases but many districts get extra state aid to cover a portion of the cost. New debt issuance has caused that portion of state aid to jump from $52 million in 2005 to $180 million last year. To put that in perspective, had Bond & Interest aid remained steady over that period, $659 million more could have been available to fund Instruction.
Concerned over rapidly increasing debt levels and the amount of money being diverted from instruction, the Legislature passed a law limiting the amount of new debt issued collectively by school districts to the total amount retired each year. Legislation has been introduced this year, however, that would rescind that law. The bill doesn’t identify which legislator made the proposal.
By the way, Kansas has the 8th highest per-student debt load in the nation according to the most recent (2015) Census report.