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Lawrence schools would gain big under cost study formula; Baldwin City schools stand to lose

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A consultant's report recommending Kansas add upward of $2 billion a year in K-12 education funding would be a huge benefit for the Lawrence school district. But the Eudora and Baldwin City school districts would not gain much, and under some scenarios they would even lose some funding.

That's the bottom line from an analysis by the Journal-World, using a formula spelled out in the consultants' report and comparing that with funding those districts get under the current formula.

Based on the consultants' recommendations and comparing that with current levels of funding, the Lawrence district would stand to gain between $6 million and $18 million a year in new funding.

The Eudora district, on the other hand, would gain at most only about $1.6 million, and it could stand to lose some funding, depending on which options in the report that lawmakers might choose.

But the Baldwin City school district would lose funding under any of the scenarios offered in the report.

The proposed new formula is vastly different from the one that has been used in Kansas for many years, but there are some similarities. It's essentially based on these factors:

• Base funding, which is slightly different for every school district, based mostly on how the district is configured in terms of grade schools, middle schools and high schools. The idea is that it costs more per-pupil to operate a high school than an elementary school.

• A regional cost index, which looks at the general cost of labor in a particular area and how much it costs to hire a teacher in a particular district.

• An "economies of scale" index, which recognizes that it costs more per-pupil to operate districts that are either very small or very large.

• A "student need" index that factors in the percentage of students who are low-income, English language learners or who need special education services.

• And a factor for "closing the gap," which is to say, how much it costs to bring under-performing students up to grade level or better while improving the state's overall high school graduation rate.

The consultants laid out two scenarios for achieving the kind of outcomes that the Kansas Supreme Court has suggested. "Scenario A" calls for bringing 90 percent of all students up to grade level on statewide reading and math exams. "Scenario B," the more expensive option, calls for bringing 60 percent of all students up to the level where they are on track to be ready for college by the time they graduate high school.

They also offered options for raising the state's graduation rate to either 90 or 95 percent.

According to Taylor, the end product after all of that would be comparable to a figure that school districts and the U.S. Census Bureau refer to as a "current operations" or "current spending" budget. That's essentially the total of employee salaries and benefits, including retirement benefits, purchased services and supplies.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014. by Nick Krug

Using that formula, under the least expensive option — Scenario A, with a 90 percent graduation rate — The Lawrence school district would see a funding boost of about $6.15 million a year, or about 5.2 percent over its current operating budget.

The Eudora district, however, would see a funding cut of about $297,000, or 2 percent. And the Baldwin City district would be cut by about $1.6 million, or 12 percent.

The biggest difference between Lawrence and the other two districts is the "economies of scale" index. Both Eudora and Baldwin City have headcount enrollments of around 1,500 students, which is kind of the "sweet spot" for district efficiency. So they get no extra points on that scale.

Under the most expensive option — Scenario B, with a 95 percent graduation rate — the Lawrence district would gain $18 million, or 15 percent, while the Eudora district would gain $1.6 million, or 10 percent.

But the Baldwin City district would end up losing a little over $500,000, or 4 percent.

In fact, Baldwin City comes out a money loser under every scenario presented by the consultants.

This option does not include such things as costs for transportation services, food service or bond and interest payments.

The report, which landed on lawmakers' desks Friday, is now the subject of much hand-wringing at the Statehouse because, as everyone knows, the state of Kansas doesn't have $2 billion that it can turn over to public schools, at least not without gutting almost every other state service or passing a massive tax increase.

That's not an exaggeration. The entire state general fund budget for the current fiscal year totals $6.6 billion. But under the most expensive scenario under the new cost study, the consultants recommend the state spend $6.7 billion on K-12 education alone.

Not all of that new spending would have to come out of the general fund. In fact, consultants Lori Taylor and Jason Willis were silent on the subject of where the money should come from.

Still, legislative leaders, particularly on the Republican side, haven't figured out what to do next.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Tuesday that lawmakers next week would receive a "peer review" report of the Taylor-Willis study — a review of their work conducted by yet more outside experts who will check to make sure the methods and data were sound.

"We're in a vicious cycle of outsiders controlling state spending for education," she said in an interview.

Beyond that, however, Wagle said, lawmakers haven't yet figured if there is another option besides accepting the cost study's recommendations


Related stories

• March 19 — Consultants stand by K-12 cost study but suggest phasing in the massive increase

• March 16 — $2 billion estimate for Kansas public schools shocks lawmakers; consultants’ accuracy questioned

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