WICHITA, Kansas – If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mantra of several lawmakers, who say they are frustrated with attempts to change the school funding system in Kansas.
“We have constitutionally reliable formula for allocating funds based on the needs of school children,” says Democrat Jim Ward of Topeka. “In place right now, it’s been tested and found valid a number of time. The problem that we continue to have is we don’t put the dollars into the formula.”
But a core group of lawmakers say they are going to continue to push to change the formula.
“The system is antiquated and it needs some work. It’s difficult to understand,” says Republican Senate member Michael O’Donnell from Wichita. “We need to find a better way to fund our schools.”
O’Donnell is not alone. Several GOP members in both the House and Senate are pushing for the “block grant” funding for a period of up to a few years while the school finance is written from scratch.
Governor Sam Brownback has maintained that current school funding levels can not be sustained.
Still, school leaders say funding has not gone up to meet the needs of inflation, and they point to base school aid funding numbers. Base per-pupil aid is different from overall “education” funding that includes things like teacher retirement, or, KPERS.
“KPERS is one thing,” says Ward. “But school funding, money for the classroom is different. And it’s not being funded properly.”
USD 259 Chief Financial Officer, Jim Freeman, says he is going to Topeka on Monday to educate lawmakers. He says, under the block grant proposal, Wichita schools will lose another $7.7 million in funding for the current school year.
But, he says, there is more to the equation.
“No, it’s not a done deal yet. It’s just been introduced. It’s a house bill and there is a senate bill,” says Freeman. “Just been introduced and there’s hearings on it next week. But it appears it’s going to be on a pretty fast track so, we don’t have much time to react to it.”
Freeman and other school administrators that talked to KSN say the school finance formula is just not broken, and the current system needs to be funded.
“That’s correct,” explained Freeman. “It’s not broken.”
Some members of the state board of education are coming out and publicly saying the same thing.
“The system is not broken,” says State Board of Education member Janet Waugh. “I think a simple response to that is the Supreme Court has ruled several times that the funding is not appropriate, that they need to put more money into the schools. Not once have they ruled that the funding formula is incorrect. They simply ruled that they (lawmakers) have not funded it properly. So what they are looking for, the legislators, is to put less money into schools. They want less money in there. That does not help anyone and it certainly does not help the students in our schools today.”