Topeka Kansas Senate Republicans on Wednesday unveiled two school finance plans that would respond to a recent Supreme Court ruling by adding money for poor school districts. But much of the money would come from cuts in other kinds of education funding.
Unlike a proposal by House Republican leaders, however, the Senate plan would not link the funding changes to policy issues like charter schools or teacher licensing.
“At this point in time, we're just discussing the finances of it,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Wagle and other Senate GOP leaders offered one bill that would restore full funding of so-called “equalization aid” for capital outlay and local option budgets, a direct response to the Supreme Court's March 7 decision in a school finance lawsuit.
According to estimates circulated in a GOP caucus meeting, that would cost $119.7 million, a little less than the $129 million previously estimated.
But a large portion of that would come from reductions in other kinds of education funding. Those include:
• Cutting base per-pupil funding for virtual education by more than half.
• Eliminating extra money districts get for students who are not proficient at reading and math, but who do not qualify for free meals.
• Raising the threshhold for districts to qualify for “high density at-risk weighting” - money meant to address unique needs of urban districts with high poverty rates.
• And reducing transportation aid for all school districts.
At the same time, the Senate leadership bill would increase local districts' authority to levy “local option budgets,” raising the limit from 31 percent to 33 percent of the base funding they get from the state. But the bill would require that voters in a district to approve any LOB above 31 percent.
In order to make that available to districts next year, Wagle said the bill needs to pass both chambers of the Legislature before April 4. That would give districts time to propose raising their LOBs and hold mail-ballot elections.
The changes in transportation and other weightings add up to $52.8 million, resulting in a net increase in cost to the state of $77.6 million.
For the Lawrence school district, the net effect of the bill - including a scheduled $14 per-pupil increase in base aid next year - would be a cut of $2 million. Most of that would come from the cut in virtual education funding, which would cost Lawrence nearly $3 million.
Eudora schools would see a net increase of $595,220, while Baldwin City schools would see a net increase of $409,120.
“We have lots of options. All avenues are open for discussion,” Wagle said when asked where that $77.6 million would come from. “Our goal is to meet the requirement of the court and provide equity for students across Kansas, and taxpayers.”
An alternative Senate bill, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, would also restore full funding of equalization aid, but would cut funding for at-risk weighting by 10 percent.
That's additional money districts get for students deemed to be at high risk of failing or dropping out. Because poverty is considered a strong indicator of that risk, the formula counts students as at-risk if they qualify for free meals under the national school lunch program.
Masterson's bill also reduces transportation aid and makes other changes in various weightings. Lawrence would see a net increase of $71,727. Eudora schools would get an additional $616,223, while Baldwin City schools would get $74,290 in new funding.