School bus funding cuts proposed to equalize schools

WICHITA, Kansas – The plan by state lawmakers to more equally fund public schools across the state is drawing fire from school administrators, criticizing the plan because it takes money allocated to school transportation departments away to comply with a court ruling.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had to come up with a plan to equally fund public schools across the state, giving every child in Kansas an equal shot at a good education. The state Department of Education estimates that would cost around $130 million.

But the plan unveiled by state lawmakers calls for $14.8 million in cuts to school district transportation departments statewide, which has administrators scrambling to find ways to make up for the anticipated shortfall. The court ruling would provide school districts with additional funding, but there are added conditions on those dollars.

“We would have to think about either limiting services to some of the people that we provide transportation to now or possibly charging parents to help cover the cost,” Mike Bonner, assistant superintendent at Valley Center USD 262, said.

USD 262 already supports its transportation department with about $400,000 in additional funding. But if the plan before the state House is approved, it would lose another $111,000 to the state. The funds it would get back from the court ruling exceed that amount, but it could only be used for things like infrastructure and building maintenance, not the classroom.

“When you cut funds from the general fund to make up for capital outlay or equalization, those are two separate funds, and you can’t move capital outlay back to general,” Dr. Clint Schutte, assistant superintendent for business at Haysville USD 261, said.

Haysville could see a $144,000 cut to its transportation department, according to data from the state.

“For me, this is a way that they can say that they’re increasing funds for education on one side, because they’re giving us back the equalization, but they’re just taking it from the other side,” Schutte said. “So it’s taking money out of your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket.”

The amount roughly comes from a 2006 audit that said districts from across the state were giving too much money to transportation departments. School administrators say they would rather see lawmakers find new sources of revenue to fund schools.

“They have to come up with this money, and so they’re going to try and take a little bit from a lot of different pots, but all those pots add up to a negative effect on every school,” Bonner said.

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