Juvenile offenders from 16 regional counties will need schooling, a cost that without state help, Lawrence schools would have to pay.
State Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, will introduce legislation next week that would help the Lawrence school district foot the bill for an education program at a new juvenile detention center on the edge of town.
Pam Weigand, Douglas County juvenile detention director, said the 14-bed Northeast Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Center should open in early March. Crews are wrapping up construction at the end of Industrial Lane in North Lawrence.
The state requires that the district in the host county hire a certified teacher for juvenile offenders or children in Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services programs. The average length of stay at Kansas centers is 15 days, Weigand said.
"The problem has been that the dollars don't follow the kids," she said.
State Sen. Tim Emert, R-Independence, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the state provided double the usual per-student allocation for juvenile detention students. In other words, the state pays $7,200 for every child staying at the center.
However, the state pays the money based on enrollments on Sept. 20 and Nov. 20, he said. The law as written does not allow the district to project the enrollment when the center has yet to open, he said.
Praeger hopes to add April 20 as a third count date. Such a change has precedent.
Originally, the law specified the funds only for juveniles detained as of Sept. 20. The November date was added as an amendment when Reilly County opened its center last year, Emert said. The Lawrence district could receive funding this year if area legislators succeed in pushing for an amendment.
"Now's the time to get it done," he said.
The cost of hiring a teacher for half a year would be between $11,000 and $15,000, said Bill Wilson, division director of human resources for the district.
Ron Schmidt, special education coordinator who will oversee the program, said he had not estimated how much equipment and programming would cost.
"It's expensive to set up an education program, and we want to make sure it's a good one," he said.