Gov. Sam Brownback and other Republicans dropped comments during Monday’s State Finance Council meeting that elicited low murmurs of disapproval from the crowd of mostly school superintendents.
The Republicans’ remarks were along these lines: See how much better the block grant funding process is this year for school districts compared with the former per-pupil financing formula.
At the meeting, several Kansas City area school districts were requesting money from an “extraordinary need” fund because of increased enrollment.
Why the murmurs? Because the old per-pupil formula provided state aid based on enrollment, taking influxes of students into account. Districts would have estimated their enrollments in the spring, then performed a final count the third week of September.
In the new block grant system, school districts receive a lump sum. If enrollments jump and they need more money, they must submit “extraordinary need” requests to the State Finance Council.
The Kansas City, Kan., district, for instance, has 507 additional students so far this year, and many need meal programs and bilingual services.
“That’s the equivalent of a whole school building filled with kids,” noted district spokesman David Smith.
The district asked for $2 million from the extraordinary-need fund. That was less than it would have received under the per-pupil formula, district officials said. But on Monday the council allotted the district just $400,000.
The two Democratic lawmakers on the seven-member council issued statements later criticizing the process.
Superintendents were “forced to come before the State Finance Council to beg for more dollars for their districts,” said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, Kan.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka called the process “a disgrace.”
“It is laughable that Republican leaders are patting themselves on the back for approving significantly less funding — or none at all — for districts facing extraordinary circumstances and calling it an improvement on the previous formula.”
On his Facebook page, Hensley mocked a letter that several Republicans on the council sent earlier to school districts with extraordinary-need requests. It read in part:
“Specifically, please provide five ways that your school district has increased efficiencies especially those that have led to better outcomes in the classroom over the past three years.”
Hensley wrote his own letter to “Republican Leaders” requesting information about this year’s record-setting, 114-day legislative session:
“Specifically, please provide five ways that you plan to increase efficiencies, especially those that will lead to better outcomes and prevent a repeat of the length and expense of this year’s session.”
The full letters are on Hensley’s Facebook page.