KASB neutral on new school finance bill, supports some parts, but funding falls short

KASB on Thursday said it is neutral on the new school finance proposal as introduced — supporting some provisions but also noting the legislation falls far short of providing enough revenue to help students succeed. KASB also will be testifying against efforts contained in the school finance plan and a separate bill to expand a program that provides tax credits to send students to private schools.

KASB urges school advocates to stay up-to-date on developments on these issues. KASB has developed a special tracking document to assist in staying abreast of changes in the school finance formula discussions under House Bill 2410. In addition, the Kansas State Department of Education has put together a run on how HB 2410 will affect specific districts.

A public hearing on HB 2410 is scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Monday in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee.

The bill was introduced by Chairman Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, who described it as a starting point to compose a new school finance system to replace the current block grants and address an order by the Kansas Supreme Court to provide an adequate method of K-12 funding by June 30. House leaders have indicated they would like to have the House vote on a new school finance plan before first adjournment, which is April 7, just two weeks away.

HB 2410 contains several key provisions that KASB supports, but at this point the legislation would increase state aid to schools by $75 million, which is much less than figures that have been cited by school funding officials necessary to comply with the court decision.

In testimony to the K-12 committee, KASB stated: “… we believe the level of additional revenue provided in this bill as introduced falls far short of what is required to help students succeed as required by the Kansas State Board of Education’s Kansans Can vision, the position our members have adopted, and perhaps most importantly, the Rose capacities identified by the Kansas Supreme Court.”

To keep up with inflation since 2009, when school funding was cut, would require a nearly $800 million increase. The State Board has proposed a nearly $900 million increase over two years to prepare each student for success.

A detailed analysis of the Kansas Supreme Court decision, the levels of funding needed to address the ruling, how much is needed to improve educational outcomes and KASB’s policy positions and suggestions are found in KASB’s testimony here.

The new bill follows a framework similar to the previous school district finance formula prior to the block grant system, and contains a foundation amount per pupil and weighting factors similar to the previous system, but makes modifications in almost every area.

It would also require each district to have a “local foundation budget” similar to the previous local option budget that would be considered part of the base for each student, and a portion of those funds would have to be used for at-risk and bilingual education programs.

A “local enhancement budget” similar to the previous LOB is allowed on top of the state and local foundation amounts, and a further “local activities budget” with a lower level of state aid is provided as a third “local” tier.

The bill would also significantly expand students eligible for the programs providing state tax credits for private school scholarships.

Separately, House Education on Thursday will hold a hearing on HB 2374, which would expand participation in a current program that allows the granting of tax credits to those who contribute to a scholarship fund that is then used to pay the tuition of students to go to private schools, or even home schools.

According the annual report on the program by the Kansas State Department of Education, there are currently 329 eligible students participating in the program, drawn from five school districts: 255 students from USD 500 Kansas City, 62 from USD 501 Topeka, 30 students from USD 259 Wichita, 7 students from USD 453 Leavenworth, and 5 students from USD 290 Ottawa. Ninety-two percent of scholarships are made by the Catholic Education Foundation, and most qualified schools are Catholic schools that participate in state accreditation.

KASB opposes this bill, as it has similar bills in the past, because the state budget faces significant revenue shortfalls, public education is underfunded, private schools may be selective in who they enroll, there is no testing, accreditation or budget information required of the schools receiving students and students in states with similar programs perform no better than Kansas students and usually worse. A fiscal note on the bill says it would decrease revenues to the state general fund by $9.2 million per year. Here is a link to KASB’s testimony.

In addition, the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the current school finance system is inadequate didn’t mention using tax credits to fix the law.

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