Kansas needs a new school finance formula, that much educators and lawmakers have agreed on.
But the details of how exactly the state will fund K-12 schools moving forward is still a mystery.
With that in mind, leaders of the Kansas Association of School Boards talked Thursday about what they would like to see featured in a revised funding system for K-12 schools. During a press conference at the Olathe Advanced Technical Center, they highlighted accountability, adequacy, equity, efficiency and excellence as key aspects of any new plan.
Though the ideas were broad, KASB president Amy Martin said it was important for education advocates to be part of the process. In the presentation, KASB said the new formula needs to avoid burdensome tax differences between districts and emphasized the need for flexible and strong local control.
“I think the formula has to benefit all students across the state,” said Martin, who also is a member of the Olathe school board. “You look at districts where students aren’t performing well, and look at what sorts of resources those districts might need to bring students up to the level where we’re performing here in Olathe. I don’t think it’s as simple as throwing out rewards to the ones who are doing well.”
The block grants that are currently in place are set to expire in 2017, putting pressure on lawmakers and educators to come up with a new school finance formula at some point during next year’s legislative session.
Educators and lawmakers will also be watching next week as Gannon v. Kansas oral arguments begin in front of the state’s Supreme Court. That same case led to June’s special legislative session. And this set of oral arguments will address the adequacy portion of the lawsuit, where hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding are likely at stake.
Mark Tallman, KASB’s associate executive director, said he’s hopeful the group’s key points will give people in Kansas confidence that a larger investment in education will pay off.
“No one wants to be in court,” Tallman said. “I think the feeling is if we could come up with a system to keep it funded moving forward, that would help.”
At the end of August, Gov. Sam Brownback asked for input from the public on the issue. That same day, a group of school administrators presented a school finance framework that included a statewide property tax that would also get rid of the local option budget for schools. That LOB money comes from local property taxes.
But it’s that local control option, Martin said, that allows a facility like the Olathe Advanced Technical Center to be a resource for students.
“We think it’s important,” Martin said. “We think our community expects it.”
Tallman also urged Kansans to talk to state legislature candidates, noting that the lawmakers who arrive in Topeka in January will make the decisions on a new formula.
“To have a voice people have to be involved,” Tallman said. “I think again, that’s part of our message today to our members. If you want a seat at the table, you’ve got to start talking about what you need, what you aspire to have, and you’ve got to begin the process now, really in the campaign season, before people are even elected, to put that across and build those relationships.”
Patricia All, the interim superintendent in Olathe, said the solution for schools could not be “one-size fits all.”
“I hope that they can tackle this in a timely way,” All said. “That we’re not late into next summer with uncertainty again.”
Spring Hill Superintendent Wayne Burke said he wants to be optimistic that Brownback and other lawmakers will listen to the school districts as a plan comes together.
“I think we’re getting more input,” Burke said. “The question is, are we going to be listened to?”