Bill to address equity issues; busing audit introduced

A bill to address funding equity concerns raised by the Kansas Supreme Court and maintain transportation aid for certain districts was introduced Monday by Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway. 

HB 2445 was referred to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee. It includes the following provisions: 

The bill would maintain a provision that makes adopting a local option budget over 30 percent of the general fund subject to protest petition, but changes the number of voters required to sign the petition to force an election from five to ten percent, and extends 30 to 40 days the time to collect signatures. 

The previous school law required an automatic election to adopt an LOB over 30 percent. In the October Gannon V ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court said the requirement to have a protest petition was unfair because some districts had been able to exceed 30 percent without an election under previous procedures. Information presented to the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision in December showed that all districts over 30 percent had, in fact. received voter approval. 

Rep. Rooker argues that a protect petition is an easier route to approval than a required vote on LOB, which the Supreme Court previously upheld. However, this court cited evidence that it is harder for lower wealth districts to raise local revenues when subject to voter approval. 

HB 2445 addresses another issue raised by the court by providing local option budget state aid is to be based current year LOB authority, rather than prior year LOB. The court held that using the prior year created inequities because it would require a larger mill levy increase in low wealth districts. However, HB 2445 also requires districts intending to increase their LOB in the next school year to give notice to the State Board of Education by April 1, in order to give the Legislature better information on changes in LOB state aid costs before finalizing the state budget. 

The bill also removes a provision that allows districts with fewer than 10 percent of students eligible for free meals to receive at-risk funding equal to 10 percent free meal enrollment; and a provision allowing districts to use funds from local capital outlay levies and capital outlay state aid for property insurance and utilities costs. 

The Supreme Court found both of those provisions in last year’s school finance bill created “wealth-based disparities” in the finance formula, the first because it allows certain districts to count more higher income students as at-risk; and the second because districts with higher property wealth could raise much more money to pay for insurance and utilities than low wealth districts. 

Finally, HB 2445 amends the school district transportation aid law to continue special payments to certain large, population-dense districts. A Legislative Post Audit report in December found the Kansas State Department of Education had been making such payments although they were not authorized in state law. KSDE officials said the aid payments were begun years ago at the direction of legislators. 

The LPA audit said that the additional payments appear justified by cost data, but recommended they be discontinued unless the Legislature specifically approves them in state statute. KSDE agreed. The additional payments equal about $9.7 million annually. 

Here is a link to the LPA transportation audit, which describes the issue and the impact on districts affected. 

Links to the Supreme Court Gannon V decision and analysis from KASB, the Kansas Legislative Research Department and the Revisor of Statutes are available on KASB’s Key Resources page at this link. 

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