Senate committee removes controversial amendments from school finance bill

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance worked on and off throughout the day Tuesday on amendments to SB 251, removing a controversial proposal to raise school funding through a fee on utility bills and a proposal to stop state funding for out-of-state students.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Wednesday at 9 a.m. to continue amending the bill before sending it to the full Senate. KASB will provide a complete report on SB 251 when the committee reports the bill.

SB 251 as introduced is relatively close to the school finance formula developed over several months in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee in HB 2410, which is also scheduled for debate in the full House Wednesday.

One significant difference in the Senate bill was a proposal to raise $150 million for K-12 funding by adding a state fee to each utility bill (water, gas and electric) of $2.25 per month for residential and $10 for all other. Following opposition from utilities, local government and agriculture representatives, the provision was removed Tuesday by a motion from Sen. Bud Estes, R-Dodge City.

Another difference from the House bill in the original SB 251 was to exclude non-Kansas residents from the count of students for funding. According the State Department of Education, about 625 students who are residents of other states are enrolled in Kansas school districts, costing approximately $3.5 million in base aid and weightings.

Sen. Dan Goddard, R-Parsons, successfully proposed amending the bill to continue funding of these students, saying school districts on the state border enroll out-state students whose parents are employed in the district, or own land on both sides of the border, or are otherwise connected to the community.

These two changes moved the Senate bill closer to the House position. An amendment by Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, created a new difference by allowing the high density at-risk weighting to be applied to individual school buildings based on the percent of students eligible for free meals. The previous school finance formula, and the House bill as it left committee, applied high density at-risk weighting only to the entire district. Bollier’s amendment would allow districts to qualify for weighting either district-wide or for individual school buildings. The amendment is estimated to add approximately $4 million to the cost of high density at-risk weighting.

Another change approved after lengthy debate concerns private schools eligible to participate in the low income student scholarship tax credit program. The committee adopted an amendment by Estes to require participating private schools to be accredited by the Kansas State Board of Education or a national or regional accrediting agency approved by the State Board within three years.

The House bill requires participating private schools to be accredited by the State Board only, within one year, or meet certain other performance criteria.

The committee also adopted amendments to put a one-year delay between several Legislative Post Audit studies, required in both the House and Senate bills, and the expiration of corresponding weighting factors; to adjust the schedule of those audit studies and how the information from those studies will be used in the future for determining a reasonable cost of educating students; and how to count all-day kindergarten students under the law in the transition from the previous system which counted kindergarten students as 0.5.

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