Archive for Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New bill would radically overhaul how Kansas schools are funded

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

April 5, 2016


— A new bill recently introduced in the Kansas House is likely to be the starting point for discussions about a new school funding system when state lawmakers return to Topeka later this month.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, said he hasn't decided whether to hold formal hearings on House Bill 2741 when lawmakers return for their wrap-up session April 27, but he said he does think it's time to begin discussions on a long-term funding formula.

"I'm not certain of the direction we’re going to go, whether it'll be that particular bill or something else," he said.

Last year, lawmakers repealed the old, per-pupil funding formula that had been in place since 1992 and replaced it with a system of block grants that effectively froze funding in place for two years at the 2014-2015 levels.

Since then, the Kansas Supreme Court has declared at least part of the block grant system unconstitutional because of the way it distributes so-called "equalization aid" to less wealthy districts, and it has threatened to close public schools if lawmakers fail to pass a constitutional funding system by July 1.

Before adjourning for their five-week spring break, lawmakers passed a bill that they hope addresses the court's concerns. Gov. Sam Brownback has until Friday to sign the bill, after which it will be sent to the Supreme Court for review.

"I anticipate he’ll sign it this week," Ryckman said.

Meanwhile, the new long-term funding bill, known as the School District Finance and Student Success Act, was introduced March 23, the day before lawmakers adjourned. And while some of the concepts in that bill might sound familiar to some, the overall philosophy behind it would mark a major departure from any earlier funding system.

Ryckman said the bill was mainly the work of the Legislature's two Education Committee chairmen, Sen. Steve Abrams of Arkansas City and Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego.

The major difference between the new bill and previous funding systems lies in what the bill does and doesn't pay for.

"The legislature hereby declares that it is the purpose and intent of this act to provide for the financing of instruction through the public education system for grades kindergarten through 12 in this state," the bill states in its preamble.

It goes on to define "instruction" as "those school district functions that directly impact the provision of education services." It specifically excludes such things as extracurricular activities, food service, central office administration, capital improvements, construction and remodeling, and facility maintenance, functions that school districts would be responsible for financing themselves.

"This would be a significant change in not just a formula, but in what we expect schools to do and how to fund them. And it's important that Kansans need to know and be thinking about this," said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

The 95-page bill contains dozens of sections dealing with a wide range of funding issues.

Some of the central elements include:

• A single pot of state funding called "enrollment state aid" that would replace the two pots of money that districts have grown accustomed to, general state aid and supplemental aid, also known as local option budgets.

• A per-pupil formula for enrollment state aid that would vary by the size of the school district: $8,490 per student for small districts with fewer than 400 students; $7,269 per student for districts with enrollment between 400 and 999 students; and $6,137 per student for districts with 1,000 or more students.

• Specific mandates on how that money would be divided among instructional costs, student support services and other operational expenses.

• Limited "weighting" factors that would provide additional funding for students deemed more expensive to teach, including those from lower income households and non-English speaking families.

• A two-year "hold-harmless" provision that would prevent any district from losing funding for the first two years, although districts would first have to show that they've spent down excess fund balances and realized other kinds of savings.

• A uniform statewide property tax levy of 35 mills to replace the current 20-mill levy, plus additional levies districts charge for their local option budgets.

• Authority for districts to levy additional taxes, with no limit, for up to five years, subject to voter approval, with a strict prohibition that says that money could not be used for instruction, but only for things like extracurricular activities, food service and other noninstruction expenses.

• Incentive payments, or "success grants," for districts that meet certain benchmarks on graduation rates, post-secondary retention rates, number of students needing college remedial courses and other factors.

• Limits on the types of projects eligible for state aid for bond and interest payments.

• A uniform, statewide health benefits plan for school employees, similar to the State Employee Health Plan, that would only offer participants a high-deductible health policy coupled with a health savings account.

• And a voucher program, known as the Education Freedom Act, that would allow up to 70 percent of the state aid attributed to a student to be used to pay tuition at a private or parochial school.

According to an analysis by the Kansas Association of School Boards, the result would be an increase in general state aid to school districts, but there would also be significant new limits on how districts could manage their operations.

Tallman said he thinks it's unlikely that the Legislature would try to pass the bill in the few days or weeks remaining in the 2016 session, but he does think it will frame future discussions about school finance.

"In the short term, it's what people are going to be talking about because it's the only thing that's out there," he said. "While I think it would be surprising to move this quickly, we think we need to be ready. But more important, I just think this really raises issues that, frankly, Kansans need to be talking about."

If the bill is not acted upon this year, it would have to be reintroduced in the 2017 session.

Ryckman, however, said he wants to start the discussion this year anyway, even if it is unlikely to pass this year.

"The amount of work and effort and data that go into this could be carried forward into next year," he said. "It’s still a conversation starter."


Bruce Bertsch 1 year, 8 months ago

The private school thing needs to go. Public education was introduced by John Adams, to insure that all families could educate their children regardless of wealth or religious affiliation. To allow the taking of the common funds to pay for private education is wrong headed. The idea of high deductible with a HSA is also nothing more than shifting the cost of a benefit from the employer to the employee. The State saves $$$ but at the cost of alienating emnployees. It is shortsighted at best and just another shift of a burden to the worker.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 8 months ago

Combine incentive grants and the vouchers, and you've got a formula for ruining schools.

Schools in poor and transitioning areas will have all the rich/upper middle class students leave for parochial/private schools (where that 70% will NOT cover full tuition at a private school), the schools won't be able to afford facility upkeep, AND the schools will miss out on these incentive grants. Meanwhile, rich schools will get the full student body and all the extra money. Plus the local tax money for snazzy facilities.

We've seen this story before in other states. I thought Kansas was better than that, but then we got Brownback twice.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

Their plan is to ruin public schools, so they can introduce for profit charter schools. The old formula worked fine for many years, but it worked. That was the problem.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

You know nothing about Kansas schools, do you? Are there areas where schools are bad? Yes. In Kansas, no. But to condemn the system over bad schools which are overly publicized is the same bigotry and simple minded generalization that is equivalent to racism and sexism.

I do not think that because a Republican politician has an affair means that all Republican politicians have affairs. I do not read reports of preachers who want to kill gays and assume all Christians want to kill gays. I do not read of gang members in the inner city and assume that all people living in the inner city belong to a gang. I don't hear of teenagers doing drugs and assume that all teenagers doing drugs. That's simplistic, bigoted thinking.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, maybe you are right, Bart. Your reading skills do not seem that good. Of course, so probably anyone named Bart can't understand what I was saying.

Kate Rogge 1 year, 8 months ago

"A uniform, statewide health benefits plan for school employees, similar to the State Employee Health Plan, that would only offer participants a high-deductible health policy coupled with a health savings account." to continue to destroy public school teachers' benefits and drive them from this state.

"And a voucher program, known as the Education Freedom Act, that would allow up to 70 percent the state aid attributed to a student to be used to pay tuition at a private or parochial school." to eliminate public school funding and funnel public schools monies into private profits.

Governor Brownback's disgraceful administration of the Bircher Koch brothers' scorched earth public policies. Poor Kansas.

William Weissbeck 1 year, 8 months ago

I'll bite on health plan. It's the future whether we like it or not. But it also speeds the path to single payer as more and more realize that their employers no longer want to pay for their health care insurance. The state will simply lead the way because "it's the taxpayers" money don't you know." The voucher thing is the proverbial stick in the eye that the GOP has to throw in just to show who has the biggest hands. That's why their claim to public school reform is mostly insincere. Most and the most important reforms can be enacted without vouchers or charter schools. They are not related to any of the other reforms. I guess in the end, Blue Valley will have nice new schools and successful extracurricular, while the rest of the state will mostly be eating dust while writing on their chalk boards.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

A little history. Small school districts have always wanted to join the state insurance plan, because they don't have a big enough pool to get decent insurance. Of course, that was back when the state offered decent insurance. But the state insurance people did not want teachers, because we are considered "high risk". Apparently the stress makes us more sick. Of course, Brownback and crew think that teaching could be done by anyone and it's an easy job.

William Weissbeck 1 year, 8 months ago

Probably more because teachers are mostly young, female, who (god forbid) have babies. You are correct, it's a risk pool thing. A risk pool of young, single, non-athletic males is every insurance companies dream. A pool over weighted with child bearing age females is the worst.

Joe Cheray 1 year, 8 months ago

This is not providing a fairly funded education that we are guaranteed under the state constitution. It's basically telling us that unless your child lives in a rich house there are things that they just won't get to do.

Don't fall for this people.

Sign this petition and help us get the feds involved in what is going on here. Yes I know it is extreme, however what the state is doing to the poor is extremely cruel.

William Weissbeck 1 year, 8 months ago

One of the primary purposes of a public education is social/cultural assimilation. It's hard to do that at a computer screen. A society with too much private schooling, home schooling or no schooling is not very cohesive.

Paul Wanger 1 year, 8 months ago

Bart, I have yet to see any "facts" in your opinions. When you choose to present them, please continue. Otherwise, your opinion is exactly that--yours, and not facts.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

If that many adults add up to 12%, the rate in 2003 the last time the US estimated the illiteracy rate, then you are right. I realize that it is the "fashion" to blame the schools on everything, but the reasons are much more complex. We have a lot of poverty and it is still growing. And we have an anti education culture which considers educated, well-read people to be "elitist" snobs. And by the way, in the same estimate, Kansas was at 8%.

When is the last time, Bart, that you tried to tutor a student from a disadvantaged home? Have you ever fostered a child? If you have, they probably yanked the kid out about the time you had built trust and gotten the child on the right path. What are you doing to support kids? Do you volunteer in schools?

Are you willing to require these private schools and "computers" to follow the same requirements as public schools? I mean, shouldn't they be held accountable if they get tax money? Should private schools be forced to take any child who applies, regardless of performance and behavior? How would a child sitting in front of a computer learning ever learn to socialize? Who would stay at home with the child while they were learning? What would you do with parents who couldn't or wouldn't monitor the child's learning? Real life has a lot of factors which conservatives, like you, do not want to deal with.

Paul Wanger 1 year, 8 months ago

@ William, I would respectfully disagree with your stereotype of whom the "new teachers" are. Of the six "new" teachers (fewer than three years' experience), three are male, one is an over-40 female, one unmarried 30-something female and one unmarried 20-something female. We may be the anomaly in the statistic, but it re-emphasizes the error in the stereotype.

The stress is real. Excessive stress from federal, state and local regulations hampers our ability to teach and inspire the students. Apathy and even hostility from home does not help the situation.

Larry Tucker 1 year, 8 months ago

All of the items discussed are bad for public education. But the taxpayers will feel the crush of higher property taxes with increases of the state wide mill levy and local taxes when school districts are forced to raise their own revenues to make up for the loss from the state. The real losers will be the children in poorer districts. While the wealthy districts will be able to replace lost revenues, the less wealthy districts will not. New lawsuits will be filed and the next legislature will have to start all over again. The answer is simple. Repeal the tax policies for the rich and fund public education/ It's time for new leadership in Topeka!!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

Haven't you heard? Brownback and crew want to make cities, states and counties have expensive elections to raise property taxes, essentially stopping it, not because the community doesn't want them, but because the elections would cost too much.

And the twin of Trabert's group over in Missouri just got a whipping. They thought they could end the earnings tax in KCMO this week. But 77% of the citizens, true citizens, said NO. 77% understood what services this tax brings to their community. 77% weren't begging for something for nothing, like these tax groups who want no taxes, but use taxpayer's roads. Now the radical bad citizens in Jefferson city have to, hopefully, leave KCMO alone for awhile. The citizens have spoken.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

This new bill essentially is designed to funnel public education tax dollars away from public education.

One more step towards privatization with taxpayers still paying the bills.

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