Lots Of Talk About School Funding In Kansas But Few Specifics

Sep 15, 2016

Mark Tallman from the Kansas Association of School Boards on Thursday laid out five broad areas a new school funding formula should contain.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Two weeks ago Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said the state needed a new school funding formula and called on educators to email him their suggestions.

At his Statehouse news conference Brownback offered no specific ideas.

On Thursday, the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) talked about what should be in a new formula next year. But, like the governor, the organization offered few details. KASB did urge everyone to email.

"It is imperative to tell the governor and legislators about what they would like to see in the next school finance system," Mark Tallman, KASB Associate Executive Director, said at a news conference in Olathe.

KASB is offering five broad components that it says must be included in any new formula:

  • Accountability — How will the state help each student succeed and how will that be measured?
  • Adequacy — How will lawmakers make sure every student has an "equal opportunity" to be college and career ready and "recognize the additional needs of students who require special services."
  • Equity — How to provide equitable funding to the state's 286 districts and avoid "undue and burdensome differences in local taxes."
  • Efficiency — How to give local districts the ability to response to local needs while encouraging cooperation to save money.
  • Excellence — How to craft a formula that allows for districts to go "beyond state requirements."

KASB and other education groups in Kansas have stressed the need to have as much local control as possible. Local boards know best how to prepare students to be college and career ready and "local boards should have control over how they do it," said KASB President Amy Martin, who is also on the Olathe school board.

Tallman was unequivocal on one point: the state needs to invest more money in K-12 education.

It's not surprising that these suggestions are vague. While it's clear more moderates will be in the Kansas Legislature next year, nobody knows just how many until after the general election. 

The election will also help make clear how willing the Legislature will be to roll back Brownback's 2012 tax cuts.

One thing that is clear is that Lawmakers have no choice but to write a new formula. The two-year block grant funding scheme comes to end after this fiscal year.

There's one more wildcard; next week the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the adequacy portion of the Gannon school funding lawsuit. Should the high court rule that the state is inadequately funding public education, lawmakers might have to come up with an extra $500 million to fix the problem.

"I think the feeling is if we can come up with a system, keep it funded moving forward, that will help,” Tallman said.

Sam Zeff  covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.