A plan to fix the state’s equalization formula and avert a potential shutdown of Kansas public schools drew no opponents to a committee hearing Tuesday.
Several schools representatives presented “neutral” testimony, saying the plan presented by Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. was likely the least objectionable method to satisfy a state Supreme Court order.
“This seems to be the closest way we can satisfy the court’s requirement and make sure the court doesn’t close our schools,” said Ryckman, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The state high court’s equity ruling in Gannon v. Kansas last month directed the Legislature to address inequities in state aid among school districts by June 30. If it didn’t, public schools wouldn’t open for the 2016-17 school year, the court said.
The bill discussed in the Appropriations Committee Tuesday would return to a previous equalization formula used before the Legislature implemented a block-grant funding plan.
Under the proposal, some districts would gain in state aid and others would lose aid. Blue Valley, Olathe and Shawnee Mission districts would collectively lose about $5.2 million.
Jim Hinson, superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, said the district would have three options to make up the $1.7 million it would lose: increase the property tax rate, reduce spending or use part of the district’s reserve fund.
Hinson said the plan creates winners and losers among school districts, and he would prefer one that held districts harmless. But the bill seemed to be “the least detrimental” solution offered so far, he said.
Dodie Wellshear, a lobbyist for the Blue Valley district, said the loss to the district of $2.4 million could require it to ask taxpayers to restore those dollars.
But, she said, “we see this bill as the opportunity to get us through this current crisis.”
Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards opposed a provision in the bill that would repeal a $17 million extraordinary need fund, which was included in the block-grant program. School districts apply for additional aid from the fund when they face extra expenses or revenue losses.
Under the bill, that $17 million would be applied to the equalization plan along with additional spending of $20 million to $23 million.
The state’s old equalization formula provided extra funds to property-poor districts. Such districts must tax at a higher rate to raise the same funding as property-rich districts.
A separate equalization proposal is expected to be heard in a Senate committee this week, but it does not provide for additional spending.