Some Kansas Lawmakers Already Working On A New School Funding Formula

Jul 9, 2016

Sen. Laura Kelly says a small, bipartisan group of lawmakers are already working on a new school funding formula.
Credit File Photo / Kansas News Service

While most Kansas educators are still breathing a sigh of relief that the school funding equity issue was solved in a special session and public schools could remain open, some lawmaker are already looking ahead to the new session in January.

Sen. Laura Kelly, the minority whip from Topeka, says a small bipartisan group has already begun meeting to draft a new school funding formula to replace block grants, which expire at the end of this fiscal year.

The plan, drafted by Democrats and moderate Republicans, is based a great deal on the old formula.

“We’ve systematically gone through each segment of the school finance formula,” Kelly said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. “And either left it as it was if we thought we could get enough votes for it. Or tweaked it if we thought we needed to do that to bring on some folks to vote for it.”

She also says there will be a few items in the plan that could be negotiated with conservatives in the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback.

There was a conservative plan filed just as lawmakers were wrapping up the regular session. That particular measure is dead because a new legislative session starts in January, but it has elements that most conservatives would embrace.

The conservative plan included outcome-based incentives for school districts: the better their students perform the more state aid they get. The measure would also have created something called the Kansas Education Freedom Act. It would allow parents to use 70 percent of whatever the per pupil state aid to their home district is to pay for private schools, online schools, home schooling or tutors. Also under the bill, state money could not be used for food service or extracurricular activities.

But Kelly says if that plan resurfaces in January it would be "dead on arrival" because it would also increase property taxes statewide.

The funding formula drafted by the Democratic/moderate coalition will be influenced by the election. Will enough moderates win seats to change the current conservative make-up of the Legislature? And what will the state Supreme Court do with the second part of Gannon school finance? The high court must still rule on whether Kansas is adequately funding education. A lower court ruled funding is inadequate and it might take up to $500 million to fix it. 

Oral arguments have been scheduled for Sept. 21.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.