Blue Valley and Kansas City, Kan., schools figure among a handful of districts that could get an early taste of a proposed new formula for doling out aid to local districts.
The plan, introduced by a key lawmaker, aims to link funding to student success.
A Senate committee today will consider the bill calling for a new school finance plan that would start with six districts later this year and eventually expand statewide.
Sen. Steve Abrams’ plan would replace the school formula that the Legislature repealed and replaced with a controversial bill creating temporary block grants and locking in school spending for two years.
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Abrams, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has developed a new calculus providing a base level of funding while adding extra dollars to account for poverty, thinning enrollment and rewarding student success.
The plan would start during the 2015-16 school year in districts designated last year by the state as “innovative” — a title that freed them from rules they believe hindered classroom learning.
The measure could expand to 106 school districts by the 2016-17 budget year and cover the entire state by 2017-18.
Preliminary numbers compiled by legislative researchers show very little change in funding for the six school districts affected soonest by the plan.
Administrators from Kansas City, Kan., were studying the bill Monday, to determine how it affects the district. They renewed their support for the soon-to-be-dumped school formula because they believe it best connects school funding to the actual cost of educating children.
“That is what is best for our district, as well as others throughout the state,” David A. Smith, chief of staff for the Kansas City, Kan., School District, wrote in an email on Monday.
Blue Valley officials also were trying to get a better grasp on the bill Monday. Superintendent Tom Trigg praised the proposal for rewarding student success and for starting with a handful of school districts.
But Trigg is worried the plan would not allow a district to opt out if it’s hurt financially. He also expressed concern that it wouldn’t provide extra money for unusual needs that might arise.
Abrams said he wants to foster student success rather than engage in a battle over school funding.
“This wasn’t about dollars. I’m not trying to raise it or lower it,” the Arkansas City Republican said. “What I’m trying to drive is the policy.”
The bill would give districts more money based on their success, measured by students who attend college, receive credentials in a trade, enter the military or are employed and earning more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level within two years of graduation.
Abrams said his bill downplays test scores as a barometer for student success. Employers, he said, are less interested in test scores than real-world experiences in making hiring decisions.
Employers, Abrams said, “don’t ask what you did on the state assessment.”
In analyzing a district’s success, the plan would take into account poverty so that schools in less affluent areas would not be unfairly penalized in contrast to a district with a wealthier population.
For example, the Kansas City, Kan., School District would get $32 million in success incentives under the plan compared to Blue Valley, which would receive $14 million, state figures show. The school districts are roughly the same size.
The senator seeks to forge a path for a new formula after the state’s block grants for schools expire in 2017.
Republican leaders in the Legislature are trying to rid the state of the current school funding formula. They say it leads to uncontrolled state spending and is too complex to understand.
The Legislature has already sent a controversial bill to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback replacing the current formula with block grants for two years. Brownback is expected to sign it. That new block grant plan, intended to keep education funding steady, is designed as a bridge until a new school finance formula is written.
Abrams’ plan poses a model much different from the old formula, which gave more money to schools based on a number of factors such as the number of at-risk students or English language learners.
It would base funding on the number of enrolled students. But unlike the existing formula, students would not be counted more than once using the factors in the current formula.
The Abrams plan also provides extra money for high poverty levels based on U.S. Census. The current formula determines poverty by using students qualifying for free lunches.
And the bill would provide extra money to smaller rural districts.
The Kansas Association of School Boards plans to testify as “neutral” on the Abrams bill. Lobbyist Mark Tallman said the bill has pluses and minuses. But there is still more to know, he said.
“None of our members can yet know,” he said, “exactly how it affects them.”