Parent-legislative engagement needed on school finance

Families with public school students and school leaders met Wednesday to discuss school finance and urge the Legislature to increase K-12 funding.

The meeting was set up by the superintendents of five Shawnee County school districts and drew about 35 people to the Topeka High School cafeteria.

The superintendents said they need parents and family members to contact their legislators often on the issue of school finance. They said grassroots organizations on school funding have formed in other areas of the state and have been instrumental in providing information to the public and political candidates on the issues facing schools.

Districts represented were Auburn-Washburn USD 437, Shawnee Heights USD 450, Silver Lake USD 372, Topeka USD 501 and Seaman USD 345. Together, those districts have approximately 29,000 students.

The superintendents provided a briefing on the school finance situation before the Legislature and then the meeting broke up into smaller groups to discuss the main school finance legislation at this point, which is House Bill 2410.

School leaders said HB 2410 aligns closely with the goals of the districts, such as increasing base state aid per pupil, funding all-day kindergarten and providing equalization. The bill resembles much of the structure of the school finance formula that was in place before the temporary block grants and would increase funding by $750 million over five years.

Parents at the meeting said they wanted to play a larger role in advocating for schools, planned to meet again and would invite legislators to their discussions.

Norma McGill, a grandparent of a Topeka USD 501 student, said “it breaks my heart a little bit” that school funding has been tightened so much in recent years. “Parents need to come to the table and get educated on what is really going on,” she said.

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