A SECOND OPINION, The Wichita Eagle
A Kansas House committee has made a solid start on crafting a new school finance formula. With a few adjustments — including reducing the funding phase-in period — the state could meet its constitutional obligation and avoid potential school closings.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last month that the state is inadequately funding public education, and it gave lawmakers until June 30 to fix it.
The House K-12 Education Budget Committee has completed a new school finance plan that it likely will send to the full House soon after lawmakers return next month. It includes key features that are similar to the state’s earlier court-approved finance formula.
Unlike block grants, which the state used the past two years, funding would be linked to enrollment. As a result, growing districts would get additional funds (though districts with declining enrollments could see reductions).
The proposed formula also recognizes that some students require additional resources. So it adds funding for special education and “at-risk” students.
Both of these increases benefit Wichita, which is a leading provider of special education services and has a higher percentage of low-income students than many districts.
The proposed formula also would fund all-day kindergarten and phase in more funding for an early childhood program — which also would help Wichita.
However, the proposal doesn’t provide enough funding for students whose first language is not English. Wichita has large numbers of these students, including a growing refugee population.
The primary concern about the new formula is that it is underfunded. The House plan would increase state funding by $150 million per year over the next five years ($750 million total).
Wichita’s share of the increase would be about $12.5 million per year (which also could leverage about $2.4 million in additional local aid). That increase would be a big help, but it would barely cover projected cost increases.
USD 259 estimates that its fixed costs — such as for utilities, transportation, computer software and insurance — will increase by $8.2 million next year. It costs another $4.7 million to fund scheduled pay adjustments to teachers based on years of experience and additional education.
Districts also are justifiably concerned about whether the state would honor the five-year funding commitment. After all, it reneged on the previous funding settlement.
The Supreme Court likely also would expect either a larger funding increase or a shorter phase-in period.
Still, the progress in the House committee is encouraging. Now the full Legislature needs to get behind this bipartisan effort and avoid unproductive fights and distractions.
June 30 is coming fast.