Top Kansas GOP lawmakers outline school funding proposal

(KSNT Photo/Kaitlin Berry)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT/AP) — Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas say their new education funding proposal would significantly boost aid to public schools.

The House and Senate budget committee chairmen unveiled the plan Thursday during a Statehouse news conference.

Figures from legislative researchers showed that total aid would rise to $4.2 billion for the 2016-17 school year, or almost 9 percent more than during the 2013-14 school year.

“Our schools need a flexible, predictable solution to the red-tape that has directed money away from where it’s needed most,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell). “This block grant bill is vital for getting more money into the classroom where it can positively impact student outcomes.”

Districts instead would receive “block grants” based on their current aid, including the state’s contributions for teacher pensions. State aid including pension payments is about $4 billion annually.

GOP leaders said total state aid for schools would increase over the next two years, but budget projections have shown the state’s pension contributions rising.

“An originally complex finance formula 23 years ago has been updated, piled onto, and tweaked with a dizzying array of exceptions and modifications over the years. It is replete with ‘corrections’ and ‘improvements’ for special and local interests, hidden by the sheer complexity of this very cumbersome instrument. Its complexity compels many to misconstrue it and the time has come to replace it,” said State School Board Member Steve Roberts, speaking in his personal capacity.

The plan would allow districts to continue raising the same local property tax dollars to supplement their state aid. They’d also get more flexibility in tapping reserve funds.

“School funding is the most important and largest portion of the state budget, and rightly so.  It is therefore incumbent upon us to ensure that the formula for school spending is effective, efficient and fair for the benefit of all Kansas students and taxpayers,” said State School Board Member Ken Willard, speaking in his personal capacity.

“The most important point I want to make about the K-12 Block Grant Funding Bill is the complete flexibility it provides to local districts. This bill ensures that no school will be required to make any cuts to planned expenses unless their local board chooses to do so,” Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) stated. “With this block grant funding bill, we will increase funding, increase flexibility and create full certainty for our school districts. I’m proud of the collaborative work on this bill, and I thank my colleagues in the legislature, superintendents and school board members for their input and help through the creation of this bill.”

The current funding formula considers wealthy school districts with high property values impoverished. Because the formula was developed in 1992 before the widespread use of virtual education, it inadequately deals with technological advances. The formula is designed in such a way that even though there are less than 500,000 students utilizing the online school system. Taxpayers actually pay for more than 800,000 students, yet only 55 cents of every dollar actually makes it to the classroom.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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