Government & Politics

Proposal would drastically change funding for schools

A Kansas senator who formerly served on the state school board said Friday that he is crafting a bill to rework the way schools are funded and boost vocational education.

The centerpiece of the plan by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, is to divert some state funding into student accounts that they could tap in their high school years to pay for high-cost technical classes, or in some cases, save money for college.

Abrams outlined his proposal Friday at a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, a Republican group.

Abrams, who served on the State Board of Education for 14 years before winning a Senate seat last year, criticized the current formula for funding schools, which includes a base rate per pupil that is adjusted for a variety of special circumstances.

"Our current funding formula is almost incomprehensible to most people," Abrams said.

He said his plan will be based on the actual costs of educating students at different age levels and in different programs of study.

To determine those costs, the first part of his proposal would require Kansas districts to standardize their accounting methods.

Abrams said students in the lower grades are less expensive to educate. At that level, school districts could pay the actual cost and bank extra money from the per-student state funding in an account that would follow the student from school to school.

Later, students could use the banked account to help pay for vocational classes that are equipment-intensive and more expensive to provide. Students who take primarily lecture classes would likely retain some money in their accounts that they would be able to use to help pay for college, Abrams said.

"It would help a lot of students who don't find the current system relevant," Abrams said. To a degree, it would help "students become responsible for their own education."

Other changes Abrams proposes include:

* Increasing use of Internet-based classes to teach students in small towns vocational skills, so they might not have to leave their hometown to pursue their education.

* Developing a concept of "education providers," which could include both traditionally credentialed teachers and working professionals in vocational fields who could train students in specialties such as plumbing, welding and construction.

* Hire "career development facilitators" who would help students choose and follow career-oriented educational paths. Abrams said existing counselors don't have enough time to do that because they have to "deal with a lot of emotional problems with the families and individuals."

* Recruit trade-certified professionals to teach vocational skills so students could get an earlier start on earning their own certifications.

* Teach basic requirements of high school in technical-school settings so that students would emerge with job skills and a basic grounding in science, math and English.

His proposals were warmly received by most of the Pachyderms.

"It sounds like the best plan I've ever heard," said club member Darrel Thorp.

Walt Chappell, a Democrat who replaced the Republican Abrams on the state school board, said he thinks the plan is excellent.

"It builds the education budget from the school building up, instead of (by) the district," he said.

Senate Education Committee chairwoman Jean Schodorf said she will schedule a hearing on Abram's proposal when the Legislature returns to session next month.

But, she added that she would want the state Technical Education Authority to examine the bill as well because of its potentially far-reaching impact on vocational schools, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities.