Kansas educators voiced opposition Tuesday to a Senate bill that would change the way Kansas has distributed funds for at-risk students for more than 20 years.
Administrators and lobbyists told the Senate Education Committee that the state's current definition for at-risk students works because it involves income. SB 103 would provide at-risk funds for students in kindergarten through third grade whose parents qualify for free or reduced school meals. The additional funds would be available for older students based solely on student test scores.
The change in the formula could save the state $106 million that could be redirected to other education line items or returned to the state general fund, according to the state's Division of Budget.
"It's hard to support taking money away or adding restrictions to the way we can use funds," said Andy Ewing, director of the South Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative.
"The problem is when schools work with low SES (soecioeconomic status) kids, it takes a lot of effort, before school, during school and after school; when we get them up to proficient, they pull the rug out from under us," he explained. "They need ongoing support. That's the bad part of the deal."
While it is not true that all low-performing students are low income and a higher income is a guarantee of student success, research indicates a correlation between low income and low achievement, according to Ewing.
Families, or single parents, who struggle economically may have less time to spend reading to and playing with their children and printed materials are less accessible in the homes. Schools must provide more services to get the children to at least proficiency levels.
A number of bills were introduced last week, the final opportunity for the session. Bills must clear the house of origin by March 1 in order to be considered by the other chamber.
Another bill that concerns Ewing is HB 2263, which allows parents whose children are disabled and have an IEP (individualized education plan) to receive a voucher to transfer to any public or private school of choice.
"It's difficult to support," he said. "It sounds good, but the truth is students already have the ability to move among school districts. In our part of the state, there are very few private schools, and throughout the state, very, very few accept special needs kids, especially those whose exceptionalities are severe."
He considers the bill to be of little substance in helping special needs children.
The Legislature has proposed a change to the Kansas Constitution that would give it exclusive authority over appropriation of money for public schools and negate the impact of court rulings that funding is not adequate.
If passed by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, the measure would go on the August 2014 primary ballot.
Page 2 of 2 - Legislators are considering the change in response to a recent Shawnee County District Court ruling ordering the state to increase school spending by at least $440 million. The state has asked the Kansas Supreme Court to stay the Jan. 11 ruling and is seeking mediation with the plaintiffs' attorney to discuss a settlement.
Legislators discussed similar amendments following a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that ordered increases in school spending. Legislators responded by increasing funding by nearly $1 billion, but were forced to back off those levels when the economy soured, prompting the current lawsuit and lower-court ruling.
The House is considering a bill that would force the state education department to write new math and English standards, replacing the Common Core standards adopted in 2010. The bill would specifically prohibit the state and school districts from using the Common Core standards or spending any money on them.
Deputy education commissioner Brad Neuenswander told the education board Wednesday that writing new standards and tests to go with them would take two years and cost millions of dollars.
Associated Press stories were used in the preparation of this report.