July 13, 2024

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School Funding Formula May Fund All-Day Kindergarten

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A Kansas House committee spent hours crafting legislation that adds $750 million in new funding for schools over the next five years. Members of the House K-12 Budget committee members have not forwarded that legislation to the full House, but that likely will be a top priority when the legislature reconvenes on May 1.

Senate leadership appointed a special committee in its Chamber to consider school funding, but the committee didn’t hold hearings prior to a three-week break that ends next week. Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican appointed to the committee, says members will begin meeting in earnest next week.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Baumgardner, who also serves as the chair of the standing Senate Education Committee, isn’t sure exactly how the special committee will tackle school funding legislation.

“There is some question about whether we will rework what’s coming out of the House committee or work on the version that is kind of the original version that they started with,” Baumgardner said.

The original House committee version added about $75 million in additional funding, but the House committee made changes that add about $150 million in new funding each year for the next five years.

Baumgardner isn’t certain the Senate will agree to some of the changes the House committee made to the legislation. For example, the House committee amended the formula to fund all-day kindergarten. Under previous funding formulas, the state provided schools with .5 full-time equivalent (FTE) funding for kindergarten students.

However, Baumgardner said she would prefer that all-day kindergarten funding be phased in–at least until lawmakers know exactly how many school districts are offering all-day kindergarten. All-day kindergarten may direct money to students who didn’t have the benefit of preschool, she said.

“It’s going to get those kids into a structured environment to get the reading and math foundation going,” Baumgardner said. “But we’re not going to pay 1 FTE to districts that are only offering a half day.”

Providing all-day funding also requires mandating all districts offer all-day kindergarten.

“Not all kids at that age can really handle a full day of kindergarten. So that discussion hasn’t seen the light of day, but it will on the Senate side,” she said.

She said it might not be prudent to go from half-day funding to full-day funding at the flip of a switch.

“We prefer to make sure we have the funding for it,” she said.

Funding itself isn’t the only concern. Baumgardner worries the House committee’s funding formula may not pass Constitutional muster. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled the state’s current block grant funding unconstitutional last month. Justices gave lawmakers until June 30 to craft a new formula. In their decision, Justices said a new formula must include some measures of accountability for at-risk students.

“When Supreme Court Justices are saying from the bench that ‘plaintiffs, you’re probably not going to like this part, but there has to be accountability,’ we have to have outcomes,” Baumgardner said. “We have to know that money is specifically being used for a child that is at-risk academically.”

The House committee added funding without considering whether the formula is adequately calculated as the Kansas Supreme Court opinion demands.

“There’s kind of this sense that some of what ended up in the House formula was a little bit too much kowtowing to the plaintiffs,” Baumgardner said. “But that won’t get us there. We have to address the issues of the Courts, or they will continue to find other ways to chip away at it.”

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