Danedri Thompson
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A property tax increase in the Shawnee Mission School District could lead to more money for schools in districts across the state, if Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to rework the school finance formula becomes law.
Landon Fulmer, Brownback’s policy director, introduced a formal proposal to members of the State Board of Education Wednesday morning.
“The current formula is broken,” Fulmer told reporters in a press conference late Tuesday afternoon. “When the money is there, it’s spent, and when it’s gone, we have a difficult time finding revenue to make sure classrooms are funded.”
The new plan, he said, takes into consideration how much the state can afford to spend and attempts to break the cycle of school funding litigation.
“We want these resources to be stable,” he said.
Under Brownback’s finance reform plan, each of the state’s 283 school districts will receive at least the same amount of funding they received this year provided their enrollment numbers and local option mill levy remain stable.
The plan will guarantee a base state aid per pupil of $4,492 and an additional supplemental fund that will be divvied out based on a new formula. That formula uses the property values of the wealthiest districts to create a funding ceiling.
Unlike the existing system, the proposed changes eliminate the cap on local option budgets. As wealthier districts raise additional funds through local taxes, the funding ceiling is lifted increasing the amount of state aid to poorer districts.
Another key element of the proposal drops elements of the existing formula that weights student populations based on demographics and parental income.
USD 231 school business director Eric Hansen said the new funding formula essentially freezes the demographics of every district in the state.
“Let’s say the intermodal comes along and we’re dealing with a significant number of new at-risk or bilingual students,” Hansen said. “Let’s say the Olathe School District sees a significant drop in their bilingual population. What is the new formula going to do now based on these parameters?”
Fulmer said the new formula allows local school boards to determine priorities in their districts.
“There’s not going to be this much money is spent on those students and this much money is spent on those students and this much money is spent on those students,” Fulmer said. “We’re giving school districts flexibility to do the things they need to do locally.”
Although the proposed formula appears to be less complex, Hansen said simplifying the formula won’t necessarily make everyone happy.
“It may help the average taxpayer understand what funding is going into schools, but is that really the most important component of a funding mechanism? No,” Hansen said.
The purpose of the funding formula is to fund schools appropriately, he explained.
USD 231 is one of several public Kansas schools suing the state legislature due to what they deem is inadequate funding that isn’t distributed equitably.
Hansen isn’t sure the new proposal will fix that problem.
“The lawsuit is about enforcing what’s already in the law,” Hansen said.
To that end, Hansen said the GE schools have lost more than $4.5 million in funding over the last two years, and that doesn’t include next year.
The Governor’s proposal would make the next two school years transition years before the new funding proposal is rolled out in 2013-2014.
If history is any indication, Hansen said the final product could look very different than how the proposal looks today.
For example, officials from the Governor’s Office unveiled pieces of the school funding proposal during a state board of education meeting in November. Two months later, elements that would allow counties to levy sales taxes to fund schools and a program that would offer grants to school districts based on needs have been dropped from the Governor’s plan.
The grants were confusing to school districts and residents, Fulmer said. And people didn’t like the sales tax idea.
“I’m a little dismayed at how poor of a reception it had,” he said. “We thought that we were going out with an option that people could enact instead of using property taxes, but I’ll tell you, around the state, people don’t like it.”
Hansen said the existing finance formula is the result of many small changes over the course of almost two decades.
“We’ve seen that formula tweaked and prodded and probed,” Hansen said. “At the end of the day it boils down to how much money a government body is willing to put towards a funding formula.”
Fulmer said the Brownback proposal would require an additional $45 million in state aid to schools in 2013. That money would come from the state general fund, but Fulmer wouldn’t say whether the Governor anticipated finding those funds by making cuts to the current state budget or raising revenues in another way. Those questions, Fulmer said, will be answered during the Governor’s State of the State Address on Jan. 9.