July 20, 2024

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Special Senate Committee Debates School Finance

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An averaging choice, district accountability concerns, and a decision to give full-ride scholarships to out-of-state students in Kansas public schools are just a few issues causing headaches in the Senate Select Committee on Education Financing.

Committee members removed a provision of Senate Bill 251, school financing legislation, that would have added fees to utility bills. They also heard testimony that a math error in the bill adds $83 million unnecessarily to the cost of the legislation.

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert testified that a legislative research decision to calculate base state aid per pupil based on a simple average of spending per pupil in 41 districts resulted in the bill’s calculation of base state aid per pupil of $4,080. Had legislative used weighted average gross spending instead, base state aid per pupil in the bill would be $3,956. He proposed amending the bill to set base aid at the lower rate.

“Doing so would fulfill the Court’s requirement that funding be reasonably calculated and prevent Kansas from being overtaxed by roughly $83 million per year,” Trabert told the committee in written testimony.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, said that suggestion is unlikely to be included in the final bill, because Senate leadership called it a non-starter.

“I can tell you it’s not going to go anywhere,” she said. “I’m just being frank.”

there are more amendments coming, Baumgardner said, but getting votes to pass a final bill will be difficult.

“Quite frankly on the Senate side, we have about 8 or 9 Democrats who say they can’t vote for this, because it’s not enough money,” she said. “We have about the same number of Republicans saying we can’t vote for this because it’s too much money.”

Baumgardner said she’s just trying to thread the needle. Right now, she said, Kansas loses money by fully funding out-of-state students who attend Kansas public schools. The original bill eliminated that funding. However, committee members decided to continue fully funding students from Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska who attend Kansas schools.

This year, there are 624 out-of-state students attending Kansas public K-12 schools.

“The comment was made by a Senator who sits next to me that if we don’t fund them, many school districts will have to shut down,” Baumgardner said.

She plans to propose half-funding for out-of-state students.

“I’m going to see if we can get it a .5 so we wean school districts down from it,” she said.

She also plans to offer accountability amendments to ensure that school districts dedicate new funding to at-risk students. That, she said, will be necessary to meet the demands of the Kansas Supreme Court.

“If schools are going to receive new funding for at-risk, they need to spend it on evidence-based approved best practices,” she said. “If you are saying you need more funding, you’re going to have to use that funding wisely, and you’re going to have to account for how you’re using that funding. Show your work.”

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