A Senate committee Tuesday took up a proposal to fix the state’s school equalization formula, a plan that would be costly for three big Johnson County school districts.
The bill is an alternative to one heard by a House committee earlier. The Senate version would drop state aid collectively to the Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and Olathe school districts by about $10 million.
The Legislature is under pressure to equalize funding among districts. A state Supreme Court ruling last month ordered lawmakers to address inequities by June 30. If not, the court said, K-12 public schools would not open for the 2016-17 school year.
The House bill adds more than $20 million in new spending, but the Senate plan reshuffles current spending with a formula that begins by reducing state aid to all districts by 1.45 percent, then making adjustments for equalization purposes.
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In the Senate plan, the Blue Valley district loses nearly $4 million in state aid, Shawnee Mission loses $3.6 million, and Olathe loses $2.6 million. Under the House plan, the losses would be $2.4 million for Blue Valley, $1.7 million for Shawnee Mission and $1 million for Olathe.
Several Wyandotte County districts are gainers in both plans. In the Senate version, the increase to the Kansas City, Kan., district is about $350,000 and about $320,000 to Bonner Springs.
For gainers, a significant portion of the funds is expected to go to property tax relief.
Both plans return to a formula used before block-grant funding was implemented. The effort is intended to equalize funding between wealthier and poorer districts. Lawmakers believe a formula similar to the old equalization formula will satisfy the court’s ruling.
At Tuesday’s committee hearing, Dodie Wellshear, a lobbyist for the Blue Valley district, said the district was opposed to the Senate bill, saying the House version is a fairer response to the court decision. Fund losses could require the district to ask taxpayers to make up the money.
Lawmakers lamented that the equalization formula would result largely in a shifting of tax dollars.
“You have to wonder what the court is thinking that the money isn’t going to the classroom but to property tax relief,” said Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.
Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman, said he hopes to have a Senate bill passed by the end of next week, before the Legislature goes on break.