June 13, 2024

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Three Day School Funding Hearing Ends

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Lawmakers in the Kansas House wrapped up hearings on a school funding proposal on March 27. HB2410 would funnel an additional $75 million to schools on March 27.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee hosted a three-day hearing on a proposed funding formula that provides $4,170 in base state aid per pupil, up from $3,852.

Similar to the 1992 formula, the proposal adds weightings for at-risk students. It also allows districts to maintain local option budgets, broken into three categories. Local funding would be prescribed for certain functions like educating English learners and at-risk students. Another local stream could be used to fund extra curricular activities.

Though the formula includes weightings for low enrollment, more than 100 school districts would receive less funding due to declining enrollment.

Under the proposal, the Great Bend School District loses $1.2 million, Geary County Schools loses $5.5 million, Ft. Leavenworth loses $3 million and Hutchinson School District loses $2.5 million. Hutch’s neighboring district, Buhler, receives $1 million more.

Growing districts receive a bump in funding. Every Johnson County School District receives a funding increase as would the Dodge City, Hays, Topeka, Wichita, and Kansas City, Kansas, School Districts. View specifics for all school districts here.

Legislators essentially froze school funding two years ago, instituting a block grant mechanism that held schools harmless. The block grants served as a place holder until legislators crafted a new formula. That funding mechanism expires June 30. Now legislators face a Supreme Court-mandated deadline of June 30 as well. The state Supreme Court ruled block grants aren’t adequately calculated. Justices mandated lawmakers develop a new formula by June 30.

HB 2410 is one of several proposals the House committee vetted. The bill appears to have momentum.

Several school districts, including the Wichita School District, voiced strong opposition to HB 2410. The Wichita district would be one of the biggest winners if legislators adopt the formula. USD 259 would receive an additional $8.5 million, but Jim Freeman, Wichita district lobbyist, told legislators it’s not enough.

“It isn’t really as much of an increase as it ought to be,” Freeman said.

Though attorneys for the districts who sued the state for more money suggested adequate funding requires an injection of $500 million to $800 million more, the Supreme Court stopped short of specifying a specific dollar amount.

“Our adequacy test…rejects any litmus test that relies on specific funding levels to reach constitutional compliance,” the opinion reads.

The Kansas National Education Association lobbyist, Mark Desetti, called the proposal “woefully inadequate,” but KNEA formally testified neutral on the legislation as did the Kansas Association of School Boards and Kansas Policy Institute.

Several school district officials expressed their opposition to the funding scheme. The Blue Valley School District is a noted exception. Mike Slagle, assistant superintendent at BVSD, offered neutral testimony. The Shawnee Mission School District also offered neutral testimony.

The large Johnson County districts’ position revealed a divide between some local legislators and officials of the school districts they represent.

Slagle told the committee his district prefers a formula that targets outcomes.

“Without an empirically driven approach, policy makers will never know if the amount they’re funding for education is actually adequate,” he said.

The Great Divide

The Blue Valley district is looking for a formula that allows local schools to fund beyond adequacy. Ideally, he said district officials seek a funding base that is tied to something that reflects the cost to educate a student. The district would prefer a formula that allows for funding adjustments based on the needs of the students, and a funding mechanism that allows local adjustments.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, in a newsletter to constituents, called the belief that heavy reliance on local property taxes is the only way Johnson County districts can excel, “tired.” Prior to 1992, local taxes comprised the majority of school funding.

“While a plan that harkens back to days of old sounds good from a certain vantage point, that jingoistic view ignores reality,” she wrote. ”

She said there are major differences in property wealth even in Johnson County districts.

“So which part of Johnson County matters more? Whose kids are more deserving of a quality education?” she wrote. “Students in classrooms all around the state today will become the Johnson County workforce of tomorrow.”

Though most of her ire is directed at a school funding plan floated by Shawnee Mission School District officials, she said House hearings exposed problems with HB 2410. She proposed a funding plan that mirrored the previous funding formula, but added approximately $900 million in new funding.

Rep. Larry Campbell, chair of the committee, called the hearing a “good starting” point.

There are amendments already ready to go,” he said. “We’ve heard you.”

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