Government & Politics

Johnson County districts weigh in on new school finance bill

Officials with the Olathe, Spring Hill and Gardner Edgerton school districts provided testimony to the House K-12 education committee Friday during the second of three days of hearings on House Bill 2410, the new school finance plan.
Officials with the Olathe, Spring Hill and Gardner Edgerton school districts provided testimony to the House K-12 education committee Friday during the second of three days of hearings on House Bill 2410, the new school finance plan.

Three Johnson County school districts weighed in Friday on the proposed new school finance formula, saying they welcome the proposal but are not entirely satisfied with it.

Officials with the Olathe, Spring Hill and Gardner Edgerton districts provided testimony to the House K-12 education committee Friday during the second of three days of hearings on House Bill 2410, the new school finance plan.

All three districts said they were neutral on the bill.

“I think that there needs to be a real look at what the base state aid should be,” said Patricia All, the Olathe district’s interim superintendent. “I think the current amount is not where, I think, most districts in Kansas would expect it.”

Spring Hill Superintendent Wayne Burke said in written remarks that he was concerned with how enrollment calculations would affect funding.

And Pam Stranathan, Gardner Edgerton’s superintendent, said in written remarks that she would like to see more tweaks to the bill, including the removal of any additional voter approval for the district’s local activities budget.

The bill would boost school funding by more than $75 million, though more than 100 districts would lose funding.

That loss has continued to perplex districts in more sparsely populated parts of the state.

“I was confused by that extreme decrease,” said Brian Spencer, superintendent of the Central Heights district in Richmond, Kan. “I couldn’t quite figure out where we lost funds in the formula.”

But he said he found that the new formula could hit career and technical education funding for his district, and its more expensive vocational programs would have to be cut.

“There’s not enough money in it,” Spencer said of the bill. “So now you’ve got people fighting over pieces of the pie because there’s not enough to go around.”

In early March, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state was not adequately funding Kansas schools.

The decision cited concerns that roughly a fourth of students were falling behind and noted the state is failing to provide those students with basic math and reading skills

The court gave legislators until June 30 to create a new plan that actually provides an adequate education to Kansas students.

The decision did not outline how much new money that would take, but estimates by others have ranged from roughly $500 million to $800 million.

Lawmakers have continued to say the bill is in its early stages, but some have raised concerns that it may face more criticism from the court.

Hearings on the bill are scheduled to end Monday.

Rep. Larry Campbell, the Olathe Republican who leads the K-12 committee, told lawmakers to expect a busy workweek as they try to get the bill to the House floor.

“Like I said, folks, this is a work in progress,” Campbell said Friday.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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