Kansas Districts In Budget Limbo As They Await Governor’s Action On School Funding Bill

Jun 7, 2017

School districts across Kansas are breathing a bit easier after the Legislature passed a school funding plan and a tax law that provides the money for it.

Ideally, districts would want to have most of their budgets done by now so school boards could approve them and publish in August.

But not this year, as lawmakers have struggled to agree on a plan to adequately fund schools in the face of a June 30 deadline from the state Supreme Court. 

Even though the Legislature approved a new school funding plan Monday night, it remains to be seen if Gov. Sam Brownback will sign it into law. So district officials watch and wait. 

“Some are panicking now. Others will panic when they’re ready to do so,” said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

While there is no distress yet in the Olathe school district, officials there are aware of the tight budget time frame.

The school board has a budget workshop Thursday where board members will hear about the Legislature’s school funding plan that adds $284 million to K-12 education across the state over two years. Should the plan move forward, Olathe stands to gain $9.7 million for the upcoming school year, according to the Kansas State Department of Education.

Two years ago the Olathe district laid off 80 employees to help close a $2 million budget hole. For the upcoming school year, it’s looking to hire. The district will add teaching positions to serve special education and English-language learning students. 

The district also will be hiring staff for the new Olathe West High School that opens in August, spokesperson Maggie Kolb said in an email.

In addition to talking about how much to spend, the Olathe school board will discuss contingency plans in case the court finds the Legislature’s level of funding inadequate and closes schools.

While most summer school classes end by June 30, many districts use their buildings to provide meals to disadvantaged students. This year the state expects to serve 1.4 million meals during the summer, according to state Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican. 

This is also the time of year districts want to settle contracts with teachers.

That’s the case in the Basehor-Linwood district in Leavenworth County, where Superintendent David Howard says he’s “really crammed for time” as he tries to get contracts to staff. Basehor-Linwood would see an additional $1.5 million for the 2017-2018 school year, according to KSDE figures

Within 10 days of receiving the school funding bill, Brownback must sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KCUR.org.