Mixed emotions regarding new school funding bill

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

USD 234 officials have mixed feelings on an equity funding bill approved Friday by the Kansas Legislature during a two-day special legislative session.

Lawmakers approved a bipartisan finance equity plan -- House Bill 2001 -- at the conclusion of a special session called by Gov. Sam Brownback to address a Kansas Supreme Court ruling to fix inequities in school funding that hurt poor school districts. The equity fix is estimated to cost $37.5 million and is designed to ensure schools open for the 2016-17 school year.

The court had given legislators a June 30 deadline to fix inequities or schools may not be able to reopen due to an unconstitutional school funding system.

Brownback has signed the bill, which passed with overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers.

According to figures from the Kansas State Department of Education provided to USD 234, the school district will lose a total of $133,635 in local option budget (LOB) aid and capital outlay aid -- $106,658 in LOB and $26,977 in capital outlay -- for the 2016-17 school year.

USD 234 Business Manager Gina Shelton said the funding loss is due to decreased enrollment this year.

"For the two years we've been at this, they're (lawmakers) not giving us the funding we're guaranteed, what we were promised," USD 234 Superintendent Bob Beckham said, adding the district saw losses in LOB and capital outlay funding when the two-year block grant was put in place in 2015.

Lawmakers passed the block grant legislation to replace a former per-pupil funding system while they tried to devise a new school funding system. In February, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the law does not meet requirements for equitable funding of public schools.

The district expected to receive $2,449,992 in LOB state aid under the block grant for the 2016-17 school year and applying the old funding formula next year will result in estimated LOB aid of $2,343,334.

Capital outlay for the district would go from $178,957 under the block grant to $151,980 under the old formula, according to the KSDE figures.

Beckham said he is pleased schools are expected to be able to open for the 2016-17 school year after passage of the bill, but he is frustrated with losses of funding for his district in recent years.

"I'm glad we're going to have school and to know we can plan and we know our fate, but how long are we going to pick the least bad option?" he said. "I'm happy it's paved the way for school to start."

Shelton said she feels there are a "couple of things wrong" with the equity bill.

Shelton said in previous years, the district could use a current year or three-year average enrollment figure to determine funding.

"The old bill was based on enrollment," she said. "We could use a three-year enrollment (figure) if it's declining. The new bill is also based on enrollment but we don't have that option. It doesn't take into account any fluctuation for enrollment."