Question 3 for the 2021 Legislature: Do fewer students and remote operations save money?

Question 3 for the 2021 Legislature: Do fewer students and remote operations save money?

Between now and Jan. 11, legislators are preparing for what will undoubtedly be an historic session because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once in session, legislators will debate issues concerning how schools should be operating, budget problems and numerous other issues that will directly or indirectly affect public schools. Now is a crucial time for education leaders to develop or solidify relations with legislators, including those who are returning to office and the many new ones, so that our concerns, challenges and suggestions are considered.

Here are the questions that legislators are likely to be asking, some statewide perspectives from KASB, and suggestions on local responses school leaders may want to prepare.

Question 3: How has COVID affected your budget? If districts have fewer students or are operating remotely without students onsite, shouldn’t there be cost savings?

Under the current school finance formula, districts use the prior year or second previous year’s regular or “unweighted” enrollment for funding, but funding is adjusted for “weighted” students in the current year. This was approved by the Legislature to give both the state and school districts more ability to plan budgets, but there are several other important reasons:

The biggest school district cost is salaries for teachers and other licensed staff, who usually have an annual contract in place before the year begin and enrollment is known.

Even if districts are operating remotely, they are providing instruction that requires teachers and teaching support staff.

Under remote operations, school buildings must be maintained and staff in place for when students are onsite, especially if the change is short-term. Savings in utility costs have been offset by higher cleaning costs, expanding spaces for social distancing, providing more online services for students lacking broadband access and equipment and other costs.

Additional, unanticipated costs include cleaning, personal protection equipment, facility remodeling and reconfiguration and higher staff leave and substitute teacher costs.

Schools continue to provide meal services to students, which means food service costs continue and may increase with meal delivery.

The Legislature directed districts to continue pay salaries for all staff. If districts were able to temporarily reduce some staff position, they may find it difficult to replace them when students return, especially if students are “in and out” of hybrid and remote learning. Laying off staff worsens state unemployment.

Districts have received some additional federal funding directly, and in some cases, through counties. These funds are limited to specific COVID costs, and there is no clear accounting statewide on how much of higher costs COVID costs will be covered.

Local Issues: While statewide totals are not available, what has been your district’s experience with costs, savings and available additional funds?

For more detailed information on federal funding for COVID issues in schools, see this post.

Monday: How are districts working to improve learning and what impact will COVID have on student learning and health?

Yesterday: How has COVID affected your school district operations?

Tomorrow: What is the Gannon school finance case and agreement reached between the Legislature, Governor and Kansas Supreme Court?

Friday: What are school district cash balances or reserve levels?