Kansas school superintendents split over new funding plan

(AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas school administrators were divided Wednesday over a new education funding plan drafted by Republican legislators to avoid a big spending increase while trying to meet a state Supreme Court order to help poor districts.

The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee had separate hearings on the plan, drafted by GOP chairmen Sen. Ty Masterson and Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. Masterson planned to have his committee vote Wednesday afternoon and said he’s hoping the full Legislature will approve a version of it Thursday.

The latest school funding developments are:

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THE NEW PROPOSAL

The plan redistributes about $83 million of the state’s more than $4 billion in annual aid to its 286 school districts. It guarantees that no district sees its aid decrease, and 23 districts see small increases. The state would boost its total spending by $2 million or less.

The changes affect the two pots of state aid at issue in the Kansas Supreme Court ruling last month. One pot helps all but the wealthiest districts pay for building repairs and equipment. The other helps poor districts when they use local property tax levies to supplement state dollars for general operations, so they don’t fall behind wealthier counterparts.

The Supreme Court said a 2015 school funding law shorted poor districts on both types of aid. The new plan changes how the extra aid for general operations is calculated, reducing it so that some dollars can be shifted toward repairs and equipment.

The top administrators of the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission districts in Johnson County favored the new plan. Under previous plans, their districts together would have lost as much as $4.1 million. Incoming Blue Valley Superintendent Todd White called the plan’s “hold harmless” provisions “the best available option.”

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SEEKING ADDITIONAL FUNDS

The Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts oppose the new plan due to how it redistributes existing dollars.

Many Republican legislators, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Kansas Policy Institute think tank said the court isn’t mandating an overall increase in state spending, only requiring lawmakers to make a more fair distribution of funds.

The Supreme Court ruled last month in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Wichita, Kansas City, Dodge City and Hutchinson districts. Attorneys for the four aggrieved districts asked the court to clarify its order and direct legislators to provide an additional $163 million to poor districts, to cover shortfalls in their aid for the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. The court declined to do so in a one-page order this week.

But Kansas City Superintendent Cynthia Lane told the Senate committee that shuffling existing dollars does not make the distribution of funds fairer for poor districts like hers.

“Until additional resources are added to this pool, the equity issues will continue to be problematic,” she said.

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WHAT’S THE RUSH?

Masterson said he wants the Legislature to give its final approval to a plan by Thursday so that the Supreme Court has adequate time to examine it before the June 30 deadline it gave lawmakers to fix the problems.

The court said that if lawmakers didn’t meet its deadline, it would shut down the state’s public schools, starting in July.

“Our primary concern is the closing of the schools,” said Masterson, an Andover Republican.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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