Danedri Thompson
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Kansas legislators approved a budget that increases base state aid per pupil and adds an additional $129 million to public schools to equalize disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts.
Finance officials at Gardner-Edgerton School District and at the Spring Hill School District said the added funding will be negligible in next year’s budgets, but it could mean a property tax rate break for local property owners.
USD 231 will see approximately $152,000 in additional state funding next year. Meanwhile, USD 230 will receive an extra $79,000. The increases amount to less than a 1 percent increase in the school districts’ budgets.
However, Jeremy McFadden, Gardner Edgerton School District finance director, said with the state fully funding its portion of the local option budget, homeowners could see local property tax rate decrease of up to 5 mills.
Doug Schwinn, Spring Hill School District finance director, said the increased local option budget (LOB) funding from the state won’t change the size of the budget pie.
“It only changes who pays for it,” Schwinn said. “Last year, our patrons were paying more in tax dollars. Now more of that will be paid by the state.”
In addition to the court-mandated increases in LOB funding, legislators also added $14 to the base state aid per pupil raising it from $3,838 to $3,852.
“The early rumors we heard at the start of the (legislative) session, I was scared it could be worse,” Schwinn said. “I don’t know that the legislators have fully answered the court’s intentions. Obviously, we hoped for more, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year.”
McFadden said the increase was small, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“I think we’ve been conditioned to fear cuts, and any time you can avoid one, the way we’ve learned to live in the last four or five years, finding a way not to take a cut, that’s a win,” he said.
While legislators approved a plan that will add some dollars to the bottom lines of USD 231 and USD 230, the plan also tweaked the state’s school finance formula. The formula weights student attendance numbers based on demographics and transportation needs. The weighting allows one student to count as more than one student. For example, one student who receives free and reduced lunches may count, for attendance and funding purposes, as 1.1 students.
McFadden said the tweaked formula will remove some funding for non-proficient, at-risk student weighting. The change will cost the local districts some money, but overall the legislature’s plan will add funding to both the Gardner-Edgerton and the Spring Hill School Districts.
“It’s such a small percentage in our overall budget, it really is pretty much a wash,” Schwinn said. “We know for a fact there are going to be certain things that will cost more next more. Whether it’s gas, food or electricity. Whatever increase that is, it’s pretty much already spoken for.”
He also noted that districts are still analyzing the changes, which legislators approved in a late-night session on April 6.
“This is all new and we haven’t really analyzed it yet,” Schwinn said. “But we’re hoping as the dust settles to really set down and start working on next year’s budget to see where we’re at. I guess it helps that they finally made a decision.”