McPherson USD 418 one of six Kansas school districts proposed to try out new school finance formula

By Nick Gosnell
March 25, 2015

McPherson USD 418 and its five fellow innovative school districts, Hugoton, Blue Valley, Concordia, Marysville and Kansas City, Kansas are set to become the experimental districts in a new school finance formula proposed in the Kansas Senate.

Both USD 418 Superintendent and current Innovative School Districts board chair Dr. Randy Watson and Associate Superintendent Chris Ruder testified about Kansas Senate Bill 294 before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday in Topeka.

Watson said in an interview with Mid Kansas Online, "We have three options on the table, One, we could be operating under the current school finance formula, because that goes to court on May 7th. We could be operating on a block grant formula. Or, the one we've been working on in McPherson is Senate Bill 294, which is the Innovative School District funding formula."

The new formula could mean an additional $600,000 for McPherson USD 418.

The new formula would tie school funding to student success after high school.

Watson said, "Schools would be rewarded for every student that first of all, graduated high school, and then after high school, went on to one of several areas. They either went to the military and were successful through basic training, or they went to a vocational-technical school working on a career trade, they entered into a two or four year college and continued through that. or they went to work, and they earned at least 250 percent of the poverty rate eighteen months out of high school. That would equate to a job at about fifteen dollars an hour."

Opponents of the bill say that such a success formula would disproportionately benefit affluent school districts.

Watson doesn't have a problem with that challenge. He said, "I don't mind always having a target on our chest or on our back. We want our students to be the best, and good kids, and we think we have that. But, it doesn't, and here's the reason. Because, the success formula then flows times a poverty formula. So, if you look, for example, in the six innovative school districts, Kansas City, Kansas, who has some great, ambitious goals for the future, currently has a pretty low success rate on those indicators I just talked about. But, their poverty rate, and the clientele that they are working with, some may say, are much more difficult than the McPherson kids, as an example, or Blue Valley."

In fact, under the initial proposal, KCK would receive considerably more funding than Blue Valley, due to the poverty level in their district.

When asked if he would support such a proposal statewide as incoming Kansas Education Commissioner, a job he assumes July 1, Watson said, "What I like about what we've discussed are the concepts. I think the concept of rewarding what we want to see as our outcome is very important. The devil is always in the details when you write a bill."

Watson has been taking vacation time to go across the state and listen to educators and parents prior to assuming his new postion.

Watson said, "We've been asking, what makes up a successful 25 year old in Kansas? The responses are really interesting. As we work backward from that, how do we help produce successful Kansans, I think that a new formula should have some rewards toward that goal."