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Archive for Tuesday, September 30, 2003

KU professor calls formula ‘uneven’

Educator testifies school finance laws ‘out of whack’

September 30, 2003

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— The state's school finance system is "out of whack," a Kansas University professor testified Monday, starting the second week of a trial hearing a challenge of the system.

Bruce Baker said the current formula's base-state-aid-per-pupil is out of touch with the changes in Kansas demographics during the past decade.

"The formula is inadequate for the needs of students across the state, and the inadequacies are doled out unevenly," said Baker, an associate professor of teaching and leadership.

Baker, who has conducted extensive research on school finance laws nationwide, testified that in addition to an increase base state aid, currently at $3,863 per pupil, more money needs to be placed into programs for poor students and students with limited English proficiency.

Those concerns are at the heart of the lawsuit, filed in 1999 on behalf of parents and school administrators in Salina and Dodge City. They sued the state in Shawnee County District Court and hope to convince District Judge Terry Bullock the state neither spends enough money on its schools nor distributes fairly the money it does spend.

After questioning Salina Supt. Gary Norris, attorney Alan Rupe rested the plaintiffs' case. Attorneys for the State Board of Education and the state itself were scheduled to present their defense today.

Norris testified that his district had made gains in raising teacher salaries and improving facilities since 1997 but that the district made personnel cuts that threaten progress.

"Money spent wisely makes a huge difference," said Norris, noting that budgets for enrichment programs, supplies, staff and coaching had been cut by $4 million in the past two years.

A 2002 study conducted by a Denver consulting firm, Augenblick & Myers, said the 1992 school finance law ignores the needs of large and mid-size districts. Salina is one of those mid-size districts.

Norris is the coalition's leader. The lead plaintiffs are Eric and Ryan Montoy, sons of a Salina principal.

Baker said in his testimony that large populations of poor students and students with limited English skills were in urban districts, but those needs are not addressed by the state's formula, which gives more money to districts with enrollments of fewer than 1,725 students.

"Overall, there would be more sensitivity to student needs and less sensitivity to district needs," said Baker, who also is helping Texas officials rework their state's finance scheme.

During cross-examination, Baker told Dan Biles, attorney for the State Board of Education, that adjusting the finance formula for districts with low enrollment could serve a legitimate purpose. However, he said he would suggest additional funds not be given to districts that did not need to be small and inefficient.

Baker did not offer a proposal for consolidating school districts, but said some small districts would exist because of their geographic location.

Biles said he would present witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday who would challenge Baker's testimony, as well as officials from the University of Kansas comparing the state's standards with neighboring states.

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