With their continued negligent approach to K-12 education, Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican leaders this week stiffed Kansas kids again.
Making things up as they went along, Brownback and the State Finance Council he leads refused on Monday to give the Olathe and Bonner Springs school districts a single extra cent to better serve additional students.
The Kansas City, Kan., School District fared marginally better, receiving $400,000 more but far below the $2 million it requested to serve a higher enrollment this fall.
Overall, the council handed out only $6 million of the $15 million sought by several dozen districts across the state.
So how did Brownback and the other lawmakers reach those decisions?
Unsurprisingly, the cavalier process was not crystal clear before the meeting began and got murkier as it went along.
Last week, four GOP leaders — including House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell and Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita — suddenly asked schools seeking extra funds to send in ways they had become more efficient with state tax dollars in the last three years.
That exercise isn’t in the official process for how the state hands out “extraordinary need” funds. Districts make such requests when enrollment jumps or property tax revenues are affected by falling property tax assessments.
Still, being efficient with tax funds is a good thing, so this request just forced the schools to comply and send a list. So how often did the GOP leaders use those reported efficiencies on Monday to determine whether a district got more money?
Soon after the meeting began, Kansas budget director Shawn Sullivan unveiled his plans for doling out the funds. That was a new problem: No school officials asking for the state money had known of Sullivan’s proposed solutions, nor had the public. That prompted a scramble to get this vital data into the hands of superintendents when it was essentially too late for them to do anything about it.
Even after that, Sullivan’s recommendations were further altered under dubious circumstances.
At the tail end of the meeting, Wagle wondered how much student enrollment should go up before it was called an “extraordinary” event.
Her proposal differed from Sullivan’s, and that led to further cutbacks for many districts. Kansas City, Kan., was a big loser: Sullivan had recommended it receive $1.2 million, but Wagle’s out-of-the-blue and lightly discussed guideline slashed the figure to $400,000.
In an another lowlight, Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the needs of several hundred refugee students in Wichita could be better served by private schools rather than taxpayer-supported public schools. Masterson did not say who would pay for this private education of students with limited English skills. And Wichita Public Schools got nothing of the $1 million it sought in extra assistance.
The long-running court battle over whether the Legislature is adequately funding Kansas schools hung in the background on Monday.
Many educators hope the state Supreme Court eventually will increase annual revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars a year, an outcome Brownback and his supporters strenuously oppose.
This week’s proceedings presented another disappointing example of how Brownback’s battles with educators disrupt local attempts to create high-performing schools in Kansas.