Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a plan last week that includes sweeping changes in the way the state funds public schools, fixing a system that he termed as “broken.”


Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a plan last week that includes sweeping changes in the way the state funds public schools, fixing a system that he termed as “broken.”

Local superintendents, as well as many across the state, believe the current K-12 education funding formula is not broken, but has never been funded as intended. And they are wary of the governor’s plan that would shift more of the burden back on local taxpayers.

Initial figures indicate that both local school districts stand to gain under the new plan that, if approved by the Legislature, would take effect for the 2013-14 school year. The Pratt district could gain $36,000 and Skyline $216,000. In the first year, districts would be assured they would get no less money than previously, and about half would see an increase.

Dr. Glen Davis, superintendent for USD 382, has questions about “what happens when the ‘hold-harmless’ agreement goes away.”

Keeping aid steady from a budget balanced through heavy cuts is not a positive.

“Last year our budgets were terrible,” Davis said. “When you’re at rock bottom and they say ‘we’ll keep you there’ is not good news. We need to be moving forward to recoup some of the things lost.”

Also “going away” would be a weighting formula that provides additional money for low enrollment, transportation, students who are considered at risk and English language learners. Skyline receives an additional $600,000 over the base aid through weighting factors, a loss under the new plan that would not be offset by potential gain.

Brownback’s plan does away with weightings. Instead, it takes money from the required 20 mil property tax levy and distributes it based on each district’s property tax wealth, with poorer districts getting a larger share. Money would be distributed based on each district’s actual enrollment, not the higher, weighted figures.

Removing the cap from local option budgets, allowing districts to raise taxes to whatever level patrons will tolerate, will “disequalize education across the state,” Davis said, noting that 1 mil raises $75,000 in the Pratt district, $50,000 in Cunningham, for which he is also superintendent, and $13,000 in Goessel, where he served previously.

Relatively rich districts, like those in Johnson County, or at Burlington, home of the state’s only nuclear generating station, or oil and gas producing areas of southwest Kansas, raise much more.

Neither Davis nor Sanders believe Pratt County taxpayers would tolerate much of an increase.

“We’re kind of unique, as one of a dozen counties in the state with a community college that adds another level of education taxation,” Davis said. “I don’t believe there would be any tolerance for a ‘raise what you need’ mentality.”

“Past records for our district have shown voters have not supported an increase,” Sanders said. “They have turned down a capital outlay levy repeatedly.”

The governor has said his plan will end lawsuits over how Kansas finances public schools. Skeptics question where an additional $45 million would come from and how it would provide modest increases to dozens of rural districts while providing no additional money for the state’s largest districts.

“The large districts are not happy, and they have the biggest representation in the Legislature,” Davis said. “I would have questions about whether it could get through the Legislature in the current form.”

Superintendents in the 114th District met recently with Rep. Mitch Holmes (R-St. John) to outline their concerns, Davis said, adding that Sen. Ruth Teichman (R-Stafford) “knows what our needs are and works hard to make sure we get what we need.”

Sanders is less optimistic that the plan would be defeated or undergo major revisions in the 2012 Legislature.

“The trend is when the governor wants something done, it gets done,” he said. “He has the House wrapped around his finger. The Senate might be the saving grace.”

He is concerned by the fact that the plan has been drafted without seeking input from the Kansas State Department of Education — the education professionals at the state level.

Key components

Provides $4,492 base state aid per pupil, an increase from $3,780 Eliminates weighting factors Removes the cap on the local option budget (LOB) and allows local schooll boards to raise property taxes Includes an equilization mechanism to distribute money from property tax rich districts to tax poor ones Assures that districts will get at least as much money in 2013-14 as they do in 2012-13. Counts kindergarten students as full time, instead of the current .5 FTE