More Money Proposed For Kansas Schools, But Is It Enough To Satisfy The Court?

Mar 22, 2017

Kansas House leaders have proposed an additional $75 million a year for public schools. Educators question whether that's enough to satisfy the state Supreme Court.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

A proposed school funding bill in Kansas would add $75 million to the public education system but many educators say that’s far less than they expected and may not be enough to satisfy the state Supreme Court.

Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican from Overland Park, says lawmakers in both parties “believe it will take a significantly larger amount” to satisfy their constituents, educators and the court.

The high court ruled the current block grant funding scheme unconstitutional and because it didn’t adequately fund public schools. While the justices didn’t prescribe a dollar figure to fix the problem, they leaned heavily on a district court ruling that suggested the state needs to spend an additional $800 million. An estimate from the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) suggested it would take $500 million.

“Most school people would not believe that $75 million alone, particularly after, essentially six or seven years of falling behind on inflation… is going to measurably move student achievement in Kansas,” says Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

The bill is the brainchild of Rep. Larry Campbell from Olathe and chairman of the K-12 Budget Committee. Even he acknowledges that $75 million may not be enough.

“I’ve said over and over, this is a starting point,” he says.

Campbell says his bill targets money at the 25 percent of Kansas students working below grade level, that the Supreme Court emphasized as a reason for its ruling.

“I do believe that’s clearly what the court wants,” Campbell says.  “On the dollars, I don’t know.”

However, many educators say the bill doesn’t provide enough new money to fund the kind of intensive effort needed improve the performance of those at-risk students.

The measure also mandates that local districts use part of their local property tax dollars for at-risk and bi-lingual students. Under block grants and the funding formula they replaced, local school boards decided how to spend those dollars.

“If we’re really going to support students who are at-risk, we’re not going to do it by simply moving money from one pocket to another,” says David Smith, Chief of Staff in the Kansas City Kansas School District.

Mark Desetti, the top lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, says the bill is a good starting point.

“I think the bill is a workable bill,” Desetti says “It’s not just something you can just stand up and oppose outright because everything in this bill is terrible because that’s not true,” says  Local school districts are most concerned about the parts of the formula that dictate how much additional state aid they will receive and how much they can rely on local property taxes to fund their budgets. Here’s how some local districts would fare under the new state aid proposal according to KSDE:

  • Blue Valley plus $3,227,061
  • Olathe plus $6,365,442
  • Shawnee Mission plus $3,498,223
  • KCK  plus $4,941,169
  • Turner minus $264,344
  • De Soto plus $1,347,811

Under the bill the one local tax districts collect (called the Local Option Budget or LOB) would be split into three levies, each for a different purpose. Currently some districts collect up to 30 percent of their state aid, some districts have option to collect up to 33 percent. It’s complicated but here’s how the same districts fare under the proposed bill. Again, the figures are from KSDE:

  • Blue Valley plus $645,053
  • Olathe plus $431,442
  • Shawnee Mission minus $167,101
  • Turner minus $16,480
  • De Soto plus $190,180

Hearings are expected to run through the rest of this week and might need to go until Monday.

Time is of the essence, a new funding formula that passes constitutional muster must be in place by June 30 or the high court says it will shut down public schools.

While hearings are now scheduled in the House, the Kansas Senate has yet to work on a funding bill of its own. Many believe senate leadership is waiting for the house to pass its bill first.

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.