Kansas school districts’ requests for aid outstrips funds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Thirty-eight Kansas public school districts are seeking about $15 million in additional aid from the state to address local budget issues, and the requests submitted by Monday’s deadline outstrip the available funds by nearly 23 percent.

A majority of the districts are asking the state to cover unexpected drops in property tax revenues, while others are seeking extra funds because of increases in student numbers. Wichita, the state’s largest district, wants an additional $980,000 to hire teachers, counselors and classroom assistants to deal with an influx of refugee students from Africa and Southeast Asia.

The state set aside $12.3 million for districts’ extraordinary needs during the current school year under a new law that jettisoned Kansas’ old per-student formula for distributing more than $3.4 billion in aid. The applicants represent more than 13 percent of the state’s 286 districts, and their requests exceed the dollars available by nearly $2.8 million.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the top eight leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature plan to meet next Monday at the Statehouse to review the requests. The new law leaves it to them to decide how much each district receives.

“This just underscores what has been a concern for most school people for some time,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “Schools are in a dynamic environment.”

Critics of the old per-student aid formula argued it was overly complex and didn’t send enough money into classrooms. It also automatically adjusted districts’ aid for a number of reasons, including student enrollment increases — sometimes putting the state on the hook for extra spending.

The new funding law gives districts stable funding grants based on the state aid they received during the 2014-15 school year. Republican lawmakers who drafted it have said they anticipated unexpected circumstances.

“If there’s a real extraordinary need, that’s what the money is for,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said in a recent interview.

The largest request, more than $2 million, came from the Kansas City, Kansas, district over an increase in its student enrollment. Three districts — Garden City in southwest Kansas, Hoisington in central Kansas and South Haven, south of Wichita — submitted two requests each, one each over enrollment increases and a dip in property tax revenues.

The Wichita district said it expects the number of refugee students from Burma in Asia and Congo and Somalia in Africa to grow by more than 200, compared with last fall’s enrollment. Few speak English, and many have missed more than two years of school, the district said.

Jim Freeman, the district’s chief financial officer, said in a letter Monday to state officials that many of the students need additional help because they’ve been traumatized in “fleeing persecution, oppression and war.”

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

 

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