As lawmakers prepare to return for next week’s special session to address a school funding formula that was ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court, some Johnson County schools could lose money.
If lawmakers revert back to an old formula, the Blue Valley, Olathe and Shawnee Mission school districts could end up losing about $4.8 million total in funding, according to the Kansas Department of Education.
Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback endorsed a plan to go back to the old formula, which would allocate an additional $38 million to poorer districts.
The biggest loss would be felt by the Blue Valley school district, which could lose about $2.4 million. Shawnee Mission could lose close to $1.5 million and Olathe would lose nearly $900,000, the Education Department said.
The losses would come from local option budgets, which are the parts that come from local taxes.
On Thursday, Johnson County school districts and chambers of commerce came together to advocate that all schools in the area keep their funding.
Johnson County lawmakers also are concerned about the potential losses.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, said she supports returning to the old formula but wants to find the additional $12 million to keep any school in the state from losing money.
It would cost an additional $11.7 million, the Education Department said, to allow all wealthy districts to keep their local option budget funding while still increasing funding to poorer districts.
“It will be difficult, but I am hopeful that we will be able to find that money somewhere,” Gallagher said. “I have to look out for the best interests of my school district.”
Gallagher said the tight budget will not make it easy, but the old formula would be constitutional and it’s the best option.
“I am worried where this $50 million, or even $38 million, would come from given all the budget cuts that have been made this year,” Gallagher said. “But we have to do it. We have to comply.”
Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, said he thinks the court overstepped in its recent ruling, and he does not support a plan that would take money away from Johnson County schools.
“My job as a senator is to protect my school districts,” Smith said.
He added that 30 of the past 50 years have involved school finance litigation.
“It really doesn’t matter what’s done,” he said. “Somebody somewhere is going to say it’s not right, and I believe we will be back in court.”
Smith said he doesn’t endorse a particular plan.
“I’m looking forward to hearing all plans and discussing them to craft the best product possible,” Smith said.
Some lawmakers have said they prefer to take no action before the deadline of June 30, when the court said schools could no longer remain operational under the current funding system.
In a news conference Thursday, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson said the Legislature has continued to criticize the Supreme Court’s threat to close Kansas schools over $38 million, only 1 percent of the $4 billion state education budget. He said Johnson County schools are only asking for a fraction of that to keep from losing money.
“What’s $11 (million) to $12 million out of $4 billion?” he said.
While major Johnson County school districts stand to lose funding if lawmakers decide to go back to the old formula, all Wyandotte County districts stand to gain funding. The Kansas City, Kan., school district would get an additional $1 million.
David Smith, spokesman for the Kansas City, Kan., district, said the court has given clear guidance to the Legislature and has indicated that the previous formula would pass court muster. The district was one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit that prompted the Kansas Supreme Court ruling saying the Legislature has not equitably funded schools.
David Smith said that if the district received more funding through the special session, it would make sure the funds went to areas that affect students the most.
“We’ve had to make significant cuts across the entire organization,” he said.
Gain or lose?
If the Legislature reverts back to the old formula, how much does each school district gain or lose?
Blue Valley: loss of $2,407,372
Spring Hill: gain of $191,036
Gardner Edgerton: gain of $395,264
De Soto: loss of $296,414
Olathe: loss of $898,060
Shawnee Mission: loss of $1,467,748
Turner: gain of $170,414
Piper: gain of $331,758
Bonner Springs: gain of $237,256
Kansas City: gain of $1,035,494
Source: Kansas Department of Education