Kansas Finance Council allocates $6M to school districts

TOPEKA (KSNT) —The State Finance Council on Monday approved $6 million from the Extraordinary Needs Fund to school districts that have recently seen declining property valuations or increased enrollment. The Finance Council reviewed “extraordinary needs” requests from 40 Kansas school districts.

The council approved $2 million from the Extraordinary Needs Fund for 13 districts that have increases in new students. Meanwhile, 22 districts with declining property valuations stemming from low oil prices received a total of $4 million.

The extraordinary needs funds was established as part of the K-12 education block grant passed by the legislature and signed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. Under the block grant, the state aid appropriation for these 40 schools was estimated to increase by $70.3 million this school year.

Brownback said although state aid funding for each of these schools increased, they continue to see remnants of the old funding formula creating financial challenges for some districts.

“We saw today that this process provides districts with reduced valuation, an option for relief that was not available to them under the old formula.”

House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) said the $4 million the districts with declining property valuations received would not have been available under the old formula.

“Those districts would have had to wait a full year before receiving those funds.”

Of the 40 requests, 22 were from districts requesting additional funding due to reductions in assessed valuation, generally resulting from lower oil and gas prices across the nation, while 16 addressed increased enrollment. The Wichita school district requested funding for refugee resettlement and one other district requested general aid.

The approved expenditures leave $6.2 million in the Extraordinary Needs Fund, which will reset with $17.5 million in new funding at the beginning of 2016. The State Finance Council delayed a decision on Wichita’s request for additional funds to cover refugees until a final enrollment number was known.  Under House Sub for SB 7, commonly referred to as the Block Grant Bill, the Extraordinary Needs Fund is designed for school districts that see any extraordinary increase in enrollment, any extraordinary decrease in the assessed valuations, or any other unforeseen circumstance which substantially impacts the school district’s general fund budget for the current school year.

“The block grant bill is designed to be a bridge to a new system for financing education in Kansas. In addition to appropriating funds to districts in need, the process has highlighted the flaws in the old system,” said House Appropriations Chair Ron Ryckman Jr (R-Olathe).

Ryckman Jr. said he views this as an opportunity to learn from superintendents, hear from a diverse group of districts across the state, and ask questions that will help them when they design the new school funding solution.

Republican legislators have routinely expressed frustration at the increase in administrative positions that outpace the increase of students and teachers. According to data from the Kansas Department of Education, while there has been an addition of approximately 20,000 students across the state in the last 10 years, there’s been an increase of about 2,500 non-teaching personnel. Meanwhile, less than 2,000 teachers were added in the same time period.

“House Republicans continue to demonstrate their commitment to boosting classroom funding, however, it is concerning to hear districts report back to the state large increases in non-teaching staff while requesting additional classroom dollars,” said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R-Louisburg).

The Governor’s Office says with the new Block Grant, districts now have the opportunity to request additional funding for valuation decreases in excess of 5 percent from the previous year. Based on this criteria, 22 districts received a total of $4,057,653 in additional funding. Under the previous formula, they would not have received additional LOB state aid in this current school year. Instead, their options would have been to increase local property taxes, or cut the LOB budgets by more than $5 million to cope with this reduction.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, today’s extraordinary needs review is the last for the current school year. The State Finance Council will meet in October to address the funding request from Wichita schools once enrollment numbers for refugees are clarified and for further discussion on possible additional funding for the Moscow, Quinter, Deerfield and Garden City school districts.

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