GOP leaders push through two-year block grant bill

By Kansas Association of School Boards
March 17, 2015

Republican legislative leaders Monday finished pushing through repeal of the school finance formula and replacing it with a two-year, so-called block grant that essentially freezes current funding in place after reducing state equalization aid this year.

It just took seven business days after House Substitute for Senate Bill 7 was introduced for it to be sent into the waiting arms of Gov. Sam Brownback who has endorsed it. The Senate approved the measure, 25-14.

The measure was opposed by the overwhelming majority of the education community but was supported by frequent critics of public schools, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Policy Institute and Kansans for Liberty.

Opponents of the bill, including KASB, said the block grant failed to provide adequate funding and would especially hurt poor districts by removing portions of the current system meant to help equalize funding with rich districts.

Supporters said the current system was too complicated, didn’t produce adequate student outcomes and pitted school districts against each other for funding.

Supporters also noted state aid for school districts is far above last year’s levels, even after cutting back local option budget and capital outlay aid in the current year. They also note SB 7 adds money for increased pension costs, rather than subtracting it from the block grant as Brownback’s original budget proposed.

However, school leaders respond that much of the increased funding in the current year went to property tax reductions and pension funding is not available for current operating expenditures.

In addition, legislative leaders have yet to propose a way to finance the block grant in the face of an estimated $600 million revenue shortfall.

In addition, the final say on the matter may belong to the courts.

The state is in the middle of defending against a lawsuit filed by school districts that alleges the Legislature has failed to provide a constitutional level of funding.

Just hours after the House approved the block grant bill on Friday, a three-judge panel in the case issued an order that said the court may block any new school finance plan from taking effect while the lawsuit over the current school funding system continues.

To ensure enforcement of any such orders, the judicial panel directed the Plaintiffs to join additional defendants, in both their official capacity and individually.

Those to be added are the Kansas Director of Accounts and Reports, the Kansas Revisor of Statutes, Kansas Secretary of State and Kansas State Treasurer.