Governor's School Plan May Favor Rural Districts

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

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UPDATE: Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An education funding plan outlined Wednesday by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback appears to benefit rural schools most, promising modest increases in aid for dozens of districts with fewer than 500 students while providing no additional dollars for the state's largest urban districts.

Brownback's administration said the plan will give local school boards additional spending flexibility and unfettered power to increase property taxes. It also said that no school district will see its overall state aid decrease when the new formula takes effect in the 2013-14 school year and promised the state will actually provide a modest increase in its overall base aid to schools.

An analysis by The Associated Press of data supplied by the governor's office showed that 182 school districts would see their funding increase under Brownback's plan, with increases capped at 6 percent. The largest is Lansing, in Leavenworth County, with about 2,600 students, but more than half have fewer than 500 students.

The remaining 104 school districts, which aren't projected to lose funds but don't gain new state dollars, account for 75 percent of the state's public school students, according to the analysis. They include the 33 districts with the largest student populations, including Wichita, Kansas City, Wichita and Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission in Johnson County.

The numbers confirmed the initial impressions of some educators who saw the details Wednesday, when Landon Fulmer, the governor's policy director, outlined the plan for members of the State Board of Education. Several said the plan favored rural districts.

"They seem to be somewhat the winners on this today," said Julie Ford, Topeka schools superintendent.

Still, even with Brownback's commitment to preventing reductions for 2013-14, future spending would be tied to the number of students -- meaning state aid would decrease over time if a district's enrollment dropped.

And not all small districts would see additional dollars under Brownback's plan. Twenty-nine districts where funding stays steady have fewer than 500 students, and the administration said additional dollars are targeted toward poorer districts.

The plan would scrap a two-decade-old practice of linking some of districts' spending authority specifically to the number of students at risk of failing or the number who don't speak English well.

The Republican governor said in a statement that the changes will make the state's school finance formula more transparent, focus more dollars in classrooms and end a "cycle of litigation" over how more than $3 billion in education funds are distributed. His administration also believes it will help with goals to increase fourth-graders' scores on standardized reading tests and to see that more high school graduates are ready for work or college.

Brownback dropped a proposal his administration had floated to allow counties to increase their sales taxes to help support schools, which found little support, partly because some of the local funds would flow across county lines.

The governor said the current formula, enacted in 1992 and revised in 2005 and 2006, is broken. State school board member Ken
Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said the plan strikes him as
fairer and easier to understand.

"What's not to like?" he said after Fulmer's briefing. "It seems to me it provides a really good base from which to go forward."

The state has been sued by 32 students, along with their parents and guardians, and the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita school districts. They argue state funding is inadequate and that the money is distributed unfairly.

But Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said he isn't sold on a "total overhaul."

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said: "The current formula doesn't need to be fixed, just funded. Don't waste precious time tampering with something that isn't broken."

In a new projection Wednesday, the administration said under its plan, schools' base state aid would increase about 2 percent for the 2013-14 school year, or about $45 million, a little higher than previously stated. That contrasts with a nearly 6 percent decrease approved by legislators this year at Brownback's urging to help balance the state budget.

State Board of Education member Walt Chappell, a Wichita Republican, expressed doubt about the state's ability to keep its promise that no districts will see funding reductions, saying, "The economy is going to dictate a lot of this."

But other educators questioned whether holding districts harmless is enough, suggesting current levels of funding aren't adequate. Some skeptics said the plan wouldn't adjust districts' funding if the percentage of students with poor English skills or who are at risk of failing increased.

The proposal to remove current state limits on school boards' power to raise property taxes is crucial, Fulmer told the state board. Critics of the idea worry that wealthy districts will move far ahead of poorer ones in the education they offer, but Fulmer said the formula is designed so that a wealthy district's local tax increase could trigger more state aid to poorer districts.

To see a breakdown of the impact of the Governor's plan on each Kansas school district,
click here

Wichita School Superintendent statement on Governor's school finance proposal;

"Wichita Public Schools will continue to closely monitor the emerging school finance proposal from Governor Sam Brownback. Today’s outline of the proposal helps districts understand the broad concepts of the new funding plan but raises questions in several areas, such as how would the new plan react to increases in costs like transportation or utilities. Another key proposal we are waiting to see is their plan for funding Career and Technical Education.

The research is clear – demographics matter! We will continue to advocate for funding to meet the needs of our diverse student population. Research and cost studies verify some students are more
expensive to educate, including economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and non-English speaking students.

The proposal will become clearer during the legislative session when bills are presented."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is preparing to release the details of his plan for overhauling how Kansas finances its public schools.

The details were to become public Wednesday.

Some educators and legislators have been skeptical of promises from the administration that none of the state's 283 school districts will see their state aid decrease. Critics question the need to overhaul the existing school funding formula.

But Brownback has said he wants to avoid future lawsuits over
school finance.

One key provision of his plan, detailed in past briefings for legislators and educators, would remove the state's limits on the ability of local school boards to increase local property taxes.

Kansas now distributes more than $3 billion in aid to its school districts.

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