Question 4 for the 2021 Legislature: School funding and the Gannon agreement

Question 4 for the 2021 Legislature: School funding and the Gannon agreement

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

In a series of rulings, the Kansas Supreme Court found the state school finance system unconstitutional in two ways:

Equity – Significant differences in taxable property wealth per pupil among Kansas school districts means lower wealth districts require much higher property tax rates to raise the same revenue per pupil. When the Legislature froze funding in programs to “equalize” those differences, tax disparities began to widen. The court ruled that was creating unconstitutional inequities.

In response, the Legislature restored and has continued to provide full funding for these state equalization programs:

Local Option Budgets. Districts are required to adopt an LOB equal to at least 15 percent of its state general fund, up to a maximum of 33 percent, funded by local property taxes. The wealthiest approximately 19 percent of districts do not receive state aid. As assessed valuation per pupil declines, districts receive a higher percentage of aid.

Capital Improvement – School districts may issue bonds to construct or remodel school facilities if approved by local voters. Based on per pupil wealth, districts may receive state aid to make payments on these bonds.

Capital Outlay – School districts may levy up to 8 mills for a capital outlay fund to construct, remodel, and equip facilities. Based on per pupil wealth, districts may receive state aid to partially match their local levy.

Local issues: Depending on local property valuation, most districts receive state aid for these local programs. What percent of your district’s local option budget, capital improvement and capital outlay funds come from state aid? How do you use those funds?

For more information on the Gannon case, see this post.

Adequacy – The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that constitutionally suitable school finance must be reasonably calculated to allow all students to achieve state education goals. Following an earlier school finance decision in 2005, the Legislature commissioned a study by its Post Audit Division to determine to cost of meeting state goals and required programs. Based on that study, the Legislature and the Court agreed to phase in a higher base amount per pupil and some higher pupil weighting by 2009.

Following the recession of 2008-09, the state reduced base funding and subsequent increases did not keep up with inflation. By 2017, funding was over $500 million lower than 2009 when adjusted for inflation, and several state educational outcomes had begun to decline.

In response, the Legislature passed a series of increases in base state aid per pupil annually from 2018 to 2023 to restore  funding back to the inflation-adjusted 2009 level, at an estimated cost of approximately $100 million per year, and to increase special education state aid by $7.5 million each year.

Local Issues: All districts have received higher base per pupil funding, and most have higher overall funding unless they have had declining enrollment. How did your district use these funds to:

Adopt new programs and positions to support students?

Restore programs and positions previously cut?

Improve salaries and benefits to be more competitive to attract and retain quality staff?

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

Tuesday: How has COVID affected your school district operations?

Wednesday: Do fewer students and remote operations save money?

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