Kansas public school enrollment is down, but school funding is up, according to estimates from the Kansas State Department of Education. The estimates show 25,000 fewer public school students this year as compared to last year and a $239 million funding increase over the same time period.

The state uses weighting and enrollment numbers to determine the funding for each district. Following a recent school funding lawsuit, lawmakers reworked the school finance formula to set funding based on the prior year’s attendance, which school officials said would make it easier to budget. 

Some districts have yet to allow middle or high school students to attend in-person learning on a full-time basis, but it won’t affect their funding.

According to estimates from the Kansas State Department of Education, per-pupil funding will set a record this year at $16,216 per-pupil, a 9.2 percent increase over last year’s $14,848 per-pupil.

Parents opting out

Christee Reschke, a parent in the Gardner Edgerton School District, said her kids will not be returning to the local district this year. The Gardner-Edgerton School District is, perhaps, the only district in the state without concrete plans for opening middle and high schools to in-person learning. Reschke’s kids are attending an online school at k12.com.

“In March, when schools initially shut down, we felt lots of stress and disappointment from our district,” Reschke said in an email. “Moving into summer, I read every scarce bit of information looking for some indication of what we’d be able to expect in the fall. Unfortunately, no one came up with a solid plan to move forward.”

By July, Reschke says she was losing sleep trying to figure out how to ensure her kids would receive a beneficial education come fall. She decided to send her kids to an online school, hoping to reassess after winter break. 

“I feel very confident in saying that we made the best decision for our kids,” she said. “We won’t be returning until next school year. At least we know exactly what to expect from the program we are in and don’t have to worry about decisions made within USD 231 or lack thereof.”

Funding to follow the child?

Rep. Kristey Williams, an Andover Republican, chairs the Kansas House Education Committee. She is not surprised that families are opting out of the public education system.

“It’s increasingly apparent that we need more options for Kansas families as they navigate finding the best education for their children and their circumstances,” Williams said.

She says legislators will be monitoring not only enrollment numbers but achievement results as well.

In addition to being funded for students who left and getting another increase in state aid, Kansas school districts also received funding through the CARES Act, the federal COVID relief legislation. Kansas received approximately $76 million for allocation to school districts. Of that, schools used $7.9 million last year and the remaining funds will be used this year and next.

The increased funding isn’t making much of a difference for parents in districts where school buildings aren’t open, as funding does not follow the child in Kansas. 

Sen. Molly Baumgardner represents part of Gardner and Miami County in the Kansas Legislature. She said parents are growing frustrated. 

“We have parents who are wanting to know why funding wasn’t used for their child so they could send their kids somewhere where they could be in class,” Baumgardner said.

Baumgardner recently participated in a forum in the Gardner Edgerton School District hosted by concerned parents. In that district, 83 percent of parents said they wanted their kids in classrooms when they enrolled. 

“Several of the parents admitted that they’ve contacted other school districts, but the other school districts won’t take them,” Baumgardner said. “And they are not in a situation where they can afford or manage getting their kids into a private school. It is just tremendously frustrating.”

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