Wichita school officials unhappy with new school funding bill

Wichita Public Schools (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kansas – Leaders in the state’s largest school district are speaking out about the school funding bill Gov. Sam Brownback signed, saying the measure still doesn’t solve the problem of equitably funding schools in the state.

KSN spoke with administrators and school board members with Wichita Public Schools, and they’re both on the same page, saying they don’t approve of the bill. They say the measure’s flat funding doesn’t help solve the problem of the district dealing with $16-$30 million in cuts before its budget is due this coming August.

To say the least, the funding bill is not being met with rave reviews by the state’s largest school district.

Diane Gjerstad with USD 259 says the bill provides flat funding and no additional money for the district. Gjerstad says had the legislature reverted back to the old formula, the district would have received a substantial amount of money.

“If the state would have used the old formula, Wichita would have received $5 million in property tax relief and $4.5 million in capital outlay aid,” said Gjerstad. She said that funding level would have equaled $26 million over the next three fiscal years.

Gjerstad calls the law a one-year fix that doesn’t help the district make up cuts they’ve already been bracing for.

“What it does for us, it just simply says we still have to figure out how to find 16 to 30 million dollars to balance the budget,” Gjersted said.

“Since there is no additional money, the cuts are real and the cuts are going to have to happen. We have to stay within the budget amount the legislature has given us,” said Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers.

Rogers says he wasn’t surprised the governor signed the education bill. He says the law will be a disservice to both USD 259 and to poorer districts across the state.

“They were very key on trying to hold harmless the districts, but instead of going back to what they knew was constitutional, the funding formula that was in place prior to block grants, they decided to adjust the block grant process.”

Rogers said he’s still worried the bill won’t hold up against the supreme court ruling.  If it’s struck down, he said, that means even more uncertainty for schools working on their budgets.

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