Kansas Legislature settled on a school finance legislation

The Kansas Legislature has finally settled on a school finance legislation. This bill is intended to expand education funding by nearly $294 million over the next 2 years.

USD 443 superintendent Alan Cunningham laid out the details of the legislation at the school board meeting on Monday.

“Right now from what we know, the funding has been approved and the tax policy funding has been approved,” said Cunningham. “The governor vetoed it, but the veto was overwritten by the house legislature, so that is a done deal at this point.”

There are several possible outcomes that could happen under this new formula. One thing that officials are uncertain of, according to Cunningham, is whether or not the agreement was sufficient.

“We settled the equity portion last spring and now we’re dealing with the adequacy portion,” Cunningham said. “Depending on this, it may look really adequate, or it may not look adequate for us because the formula basically refers back to the old formula.”

Cunningham then explained all that this formula entails.

“It does ratings for students based on needs, like free and reduced meals or students who have to be transported,” he said. “Virtually, the formula is very very similar to what we launched back before the block grants. In our district, that puts us in pretty good shape. Is it where we would like to be? No, but it’s better than I think we could have hoped for.”

Cunningham then referred to a financial formula that was implemented in 2009, explaining that the new formula is very similar.

“If you remember back in 2009, state aid per pupil funding was over $4,400,” Cunningham said. “Currently through the last 30 years it’s been $3,852. This new law gets it up to $4,006 for the coming school year and $4,128 for the following school year. Then, based on the consumer price index in the midwest, it is anticipated to go up another $60 to $80 each year thereafter for the next 4 or 5 years.”

According to Cunningham, it should take 8 to 10 years for the Kansas school funding to get back down to the same level it was in 2009.

“We’re going to add an entire new group of students going through our schools that have been affected by reduced school funding, as a matter of fact it will be our second group of students,” said Cunningham. “That’s an issue that the supreme court will have to decide whether it is adequate or not.”

One aspect of the formula implements a system where every school is funded 10 percent for free school lunches.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re a large school district with 40,000 or 60,000 people, 10 percent is going to be a significant amount of change,” Cunningham said. “We don’t know what the supreme court is going to say about that.”

At this point, the governor has not signed the school funding bill. Cunningham believes that there are three potential things that could happen from here.

“He could veto it, which would require a special session of a legislature to come back before or after signing that to override the veto,” he said. “He could let it become a law in 10 days without any signature. I think it’s June 19 was the tenth day, so we’ll know on that day whether it’s become a law, or he could just sign it now and it goes off to supreme court.”

Cunningham feels that the best thing to do is get this bill signed as soon as possible so that this legislation can move forward.

“The supreme court justice already said they would, once they get everything they need from the attorneys, they will expedite the hearings so this thing won’t go any further than it has to,” said Cunningham. “If I were to guess, I would presume to say that the supreme court will support the funding, even though it’s not what most of us consider adequate, but they will have issued about five or six portions of the school funding formula.”

At this point, it is up in the air whether the supreme court will give legislators the rest of the summer to make the necessary adjustments to the bill.

“Nobody that I’ve talked to believes it will get to a next legislative session, because once you get something in practice, for example this 10 percent floor, and other districts actually get to $1.9 million of additional funding as their 10 percent, it’s going to be really hard to take it back,” Cunningham said. “I really think they’ll do something this summer. It may be a special session and probably will.”

Cunningham finished up by stating that he hopes the supreme court will maintain jurisdiction over this for the next several years to be sure it’s implemented fully to avoid future cuts.

To contact the writer of this story, email egarcia@dodgeglobe.com.