Topeka A school finance bill that will soon be debated in the House budget committee would add $129 million in state funding targeted mainly at poor school districts, but it would also cut transportation aid for every school district in the state, including nearly $190,000 for the Lawrence district.
That's according to an analysis by the Kansas State Department of Education, which calculated the impact of a provision in the bill that changes the way transportation aid is calculated.
Statewide, KSDE said, cuts in transportation aid would total roughly $15 million, money that education groups said districts would have to make up themselves by taking money out of classroom expenses.
In fact, for many school districts including Lawrence, the bill as a whole would result in a net loss of state funding because the additional money in so-called “equalization aid” would not result in any new spending authority, but instead would replace money currently being raised through local property taxes.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who is running for governor this year, said that was one of several provisions in the bill that could hurt its chances for passage.
“I think a number of those provisions are going to be deal breakers for a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
Brownback, however, said Tuesday that he is generally pleased with the progress being made on school finance, even though it means his proposal for $16 million to fully fund all-day kindergarten is likely to be dropped.
“Everybody’s hunting for money,” Brownback said. “You’ve just got to find the money for equalization.”
The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to begin discussing the school finance bill Wednesday.
It adds $129 million in funding ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court to address equity issues in the way the state helps fund capital outlay and local option budgets for less wealthy districts. But it also includes several other policy provisions that conservative lawmakers have advanced for years but have not been able to get passed on their own.
Among them is a change in the complex formula used to determine how much money districts get for transportation aid. The formula is based on the number of students the district transports who live at least 2.5 miles from their school, and the population density of the area their bus systems have to serve.
That funding only covers a portion of each district's transportation costs because it only includes the cost of busing students to and from school. It does not include the cost of transportation for field trips, sporting events and other school-related activities.
The Lawrence school district expects to spend $4.9 million for its total transportation budget this year.
In 2006, following a previous school finance lawsuit, the Legislature's Post Audit Division did a cost analysis of the entire school finance system and suggested changes in the transportation formula. But those changes have never been adopted, in part because they would result in cuts to every district.
Other policy changes include easing the requirements for teachers to obtain licenses in certain fields, or if they already hold an out-of-state license; and expanding the number of schools that can exempt themselves from state laws and regulations under the “public innovative school district” program.
Unlike an earlier version of the bill, however, it does not include an expansion of charter schools or tax credits for corporations that fund scholarships for public school students to attend private schools.
But the proposed cuts in transportation aid are likely to stir the most controversy because they affect every district in the state.
According to the KSDE report, Wichita would lose the most funding, with a reduction of nearly $1.2 million.
The Eudora school district would lose $18,422 under the plan. Baldwin City schools would lose $54,116.