Eudora Eudora school officials told their local lawmakers Thursday night that they've been pleased with some of the progress made in the Kansas Legislature this year, especially toward crafting a new school funding formula. But some are starting to worry about how much longer the process could take.
"We need to start planning for next year right now, and not June or July," School Board President Eric Votaw said. "So the more information we can get to better be prepared to make decisions for next year, the better."
The Eudora school board hosted a forum Thursday night with three area lawmakers: Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City; Republican Rep. Jim Karleskint of Tonganoxie; and Democratic Rep. John Wilson of Lawrence. Each of them represents all or part of the Eudora district.
Of those three, Karleskint has spent the most time working on school funding from his seat in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, which is expected to endorse a bill shortly after lawmakers return May 1.
Karleskint explained how that bill would establish a new funding formula while adding about $150 million a year in funding for each of the next five years.
That would include increased funding for preschool programs for at-risk children, full funding for all-day kindergarten, an increase in the state's share of the cost of special education services, and a change in the way career and technical education is paid for.
But as for how long it could take to get a final bill through both chambers, signed by the governor and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court, Karleskint, himself a former school superintendent, said he could not make any promises.
"I wish I could give you encouragement, but I can't," he said. "And I know, I've been in situations being frustrated with the Legislature, waiting to see what they're going to do and planning for next year."
One of the timing issues school districts across the state are concerned about is the upcoming May 19 deadline to notify teachers if the district does not intend to renew their contracts for the following year.
Superintendent Steve Splichal said he liked most of what he's seen about the proposed new funding formula. But without a school funding system in place before then, Splichal said, districts face some difficult decisions over the next month.
"It'd sure be nice if, in that regular May board meeting, we had a clearer picture," Splichal said.
The Eudora school board normally meets on the second Thursday of each month. That means its next regular meeting will be May 11, eight days before the deadline for notifying teachers that they may not be renewed for next year.
Holland and Wilson pointed out, however, that funding for schools will depend in large part on passage of a tax package that can not only provide the additional money for education, but also close what they said is an $800 million "structural" deficit in the state's overall budget.
"What we mean by that is basically, that basket of state services that we're funding each year, we're short on the revenue side by about $800 million," said Holland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate tax committee.
For the last few years, he said, the state has been filling that hole largely by sweeping state sales tax revenues out of the highway fund.
"Obviously, that $800 million deficit, that's not even counting the additional money we have to pay for education going forward," Holland said.
Wilson said he likes what he has seen in the new school funding plan so far, and he predicted the House would act quickly on it when they return to the Statehouse May 1.
"I think the key questions are whether or not the Supreme Court sees this as a good-faith effort, and sees that we have a way to actually fund this plan," Wilson said.
In March, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that current funding for K-12 education in Kansas is inadequate and unconstitutional. And although it did not order a specific remedy, it gave the Legislature until June 30, the end of the fiscal year, to devise a plan aimed improving achievement for students who are currently underperforming and closing achievement gaps between various sub-groups of students.
"I think we’re going to get there," Holland said. "It’s going to be a long session, probably down to the end of June, who knows.”