Wichita schools see net increase from school funding bill

WICHITA, Kansas – USD 259 will see a net increase in funding from the state’s school funding bill as approved by state lawmakers, but the increase comes with strings attached and is small compared to the district’s total budget.

The $1.7 million net increase amounts to an increase of less than 0.5 percent from the district’s roughly $340 million budget, and it comes with limitations on how it can be used, as well as concerns about whether it is enough to cover rising operational costs like transportation and utilities.

“That $1.7 million as it translates into next year, probably isn’t going to cover that amount, but we’ll be looking at all of the options available to us,” Jim Freeman, USD 259’s CFO, said.

Here’s how the numbers break down: 259’s general fund, which is where classrooms predominantly get their funding, will go down $92,054; local option budget changes amount to an increase of $2,438,736; weighting changes will result in a LOB decrease of $645,813. Those add up to a net increase of $1,700,869.

Some board members were critical of the state’s plan, which was debated to meet a state Supreme Court ruling to more equitably fund public education.

“It’s like robbing Peter to pay Peter,” Lynn Rogers, a USD 259 board member, said. “I really do wonder if it will address the adequacy issues of the Supreme Court ruling. I think that’s the real issue that will come up next, and even from that standpoint, the equity issue.”

Others said they can sympathize with the discussion lawmakers had.

“While I would like to see some different numbers here, and I’m not completely happy with where we are, I do understand that on that kind of a growth in spending, I understand why people in our state are concerned about that,” board member Joy Eakins said.

District officials said they were worried the bill could have been worse, noting that proposed cuts to transportation and virtual schools were minimized.

“The changes have been to our advantage,” Freeman said. “We’re at least on the positive side a little bit rather than on the negative, so it could have been a lot worse. Could have been better, obviously, but for where we are right now, it’s a step in the right direction.”

From here, the district is waiting on Gov. Sam Brownback to sign or veto the bill, and plans to use the final figures to continue with budget plans in the coming weeks.

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