Kansas Association of School Boards opposes block grant school funding plan

By Kansas Association of School Boards
March 09, 2015

KASB has announced its opposition to House Bill 2403, saying that funding levels contained in the bill fall short for all school districts, but especially lower-wealth districts.

Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy for KASB, noted the bill reduces local option budget aid to more than 80 percent of school districts while holding harmless the wealthiest 18.8 percent of school districts.

“We can think of no educational, constitutional or moral reason for this action,” Tallman said.

In addition, the bill cuts $17.7 million from capital outlay, which will only affect districts with lower local wealth per student.

“Once again, we can think of no educational, constitutional or moral reason to disproportionately cut districts funding purely on the basis of district wealth,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders last week unveiled what they called a block grant school finance plan that they said would be implemented for two years while the Legislature crafted a permanent funding formula.

The proposal is contained in HB 2403, which will be heard on Monday before the House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Bill 273, which will be heard Tuesday before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have said the current school finance system is too complicated, unpredictable in funding and designed to thwart accountability.

Legislative sponsors of HB 2403 say it will give local school districts flexibility in using block grant funds, but KASB said the block grant approach repeals the stability of the current formula which provides additional funding for higher cost students.

HB 2403 says “most school districts must operate in the next two years as though nothing in their costs have changed, when we know that for many districts, costs change every year,” Tallman said.

In addition, HB 2403 doesn’t fully fund special education as required by state law.

And while supporters of HB 2403 have said the plan is a temporary bridge to a new formula, the bill states just the opposite, saying the block grant will be in effect for the next school year and each school year after that.

KASB supports the current school finance formula, saying it has worked well and been declared constitutional by the courts.

KASB doesn’t object to trying to improve the system, but such efforts must include, not only the Legislature, but the Kansas State Board of Education and local school boards - the three entities given responsibility for public education under the Kansas Constitution.

Tallman urged against any quick overhaul of the current school funding system, which while politically unpopular with some, has achieved great results.

“Kansas has been able to build and sustain one of the top-achieving public school systems in the nation, as well as one of the most efficient,” Tallman said.

“Only eight states have better academic results across multiple measures of achievement.  None spend less per pupil. All have a lower percentage of low-income, at-risk students.  

“At a time when educational attainment is crucial to individual and state economic prosperity, our goal is a school finance system that continues to improve those outcomes. Before we repeal as system that has worked well, whatever its shortcoming, we must make sure we have a better one to take its place.”