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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

Report: State not spending enough to meet needs

Study tells lawmakers funding is 25 percent less than what is needed, a gap that grows for bilingual and ‘at-risk’ children

January 28, 2005

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— A much-anticipated report on the cost of education produced an expensive bottom line: Kansas spends about 25 percent less on most students than what educators said was needed.

The gap becomes greater when teaching bilingual and at-risk students, according to the report.

No legislator nor education official was willing to put a price tag on that conclusion without further analysis, but funding that gap would require a tax increase of at least hundreds of millions of dollars. And one lawmaker said the report showed that it is time to begin consolidating school districts.

"The usefulness of this shows what the state is doing and what educators believe was necessary," said Mark Tallman, with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

The study also is important because of the recent ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty in funding schools.

The court has given lawmakers until April 12 to fix the $2.7 billion system and has relied on an earlier court ruling that said Kansas school funding decisions are based on politics and not the actual cost of an education.

This led members of the Senate Education Committee to ask Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis to produce a report that shows the actual costs of education.

Dennis surveyed 55 of the state's 301 school districts to determine what it costs to educate a "regular" student, an "at-risk" student and a bilingual student.

For "regular" students, about $5,100 is spent per student when taking into account local dollars and other common extras, the report said.






But what educators said was needed ranged from $5,258 per student to $13,219 per student with the median being $6,366 per student. The difference between the expenses and median was $1,266 per student or 25 percent.

They said those larger amounts were needed to comply with requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, proposed state requirements for a "suitable" education and graduation standards.

Most districts said the additional funds would go to instructional needs, counselors, nurses, extended learning time and staff development, Dennis said.

For at-risk and bilingual students, the survey results were less certain, but Dennis said there continued to be a gap between expenses and actual needs.

The survey was of districts statewide with varying enrollments. Some had as few as 100 students. Some had more than 10,000. The Lawrence district was not included in the survey.

Education committee members said the survey will be used as a starting point to discuss changes to the school finance formula.

But conservatives said a tax bill to bridge the gap would wreck the economy. Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, said the state needs to reduce education expenses by consolidating school districts, though he said he doubted that could pass political muster.

"I don't think there is the intestinal fortitude here to do what needs to be done," he said.

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