Government & Politics

‘This will decimate our school system,’ superintendent says of Kansas funding plan

Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., is one of the schools that could see a small bump in funding under the new formula discussed by lawmakers.
Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., is one of the schools that could see a small bump in funding under the new formula discussed by lawmakers.

Public school officials voiced concerns and complaints at a hearing Thursday on a new school finance proposal that would boost funding by more than $75 million.

One sticking point: More than 100 school districts would lose money next year, mainly because of declining enrollment.

“This will decimate our school system and impact the safety and well-being of our students,” Shelly Kiblinger, superintendent of the Hutchinson school district, said in written testimony about her district losing $2.9 million under the plan.

Rep. Larry Campbell, the Olathe Republican who leads the K-12 education committee, told the crowd of school officials and lobbyists that the hearing was “the beginning of a long process.”

“Please just take a breath,” Campbell said.

Many districts, including all but one in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, would see a boost in general state aid under the bill.

“It does benefit some,” said Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat. “But it also (would come) at the expense of 107 school districts. It’s not a good formula. ... We’re going to have to do something a little different here.”

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in March that the state was not providing an adequate education to all Kansas students. The court gave state lawmakers until June 30 to come up with a new school finance formula.

House Bill 2410 is the Legislature’s first major answer to that ruling.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioned whether the money in the bill would be enough given the court’s recent ruling.

“We’ve got serious constitutional questions that have already been raised on both equity and adequacy,” said Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican.

Predictions on how much adequacy could cost ranged from roughly $500 million to $800 million a year, far more than the boost in state aid the Department of Education said would come from the formula.

“That’s gotta go up,” Trimmer said of the more than $75 million boost. “The court’s not going to accept that. That’s not adequate funding, especially for the 107 school districts (losing money). So it’s gotta go up.”

Lawmakers said the new proposal looks similar in parts to the old formula that lawmakers scrapped in 2015. After getting rid of that formula, legislators created a block grant funding system that essentially froze funding at that year’s levels.

“It seems to us that this (new formula) does create a much more complicated situation,” said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Destry Brown, superintendent for the Pittsburg school district, said many of the districts that would lose money under the plan are small, rural districts with high poverty rates.

“I think this is going to push many districts that are small and in rural areas that are isolated into making very tough decisions,” Brown said.

Hearings on the school finance plan are set to continue Friday and Monday.

“We’ll just keep doing our best to communicate and get the word out there,” Campbell said after the hearing. “This is only a starting point, and it’s a long process.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

Jim Hinson shares his thoughts on how Kansas lawmakers should proceed with school finance.


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