As many of you know, there has been much discussion in Topeka on the School funding issues. Last month Governor Sam Brownback proposed a “Block Grant” that would fund schools for two years and then be replaced by a permanent school funding plan which at the time had yet to be developed. Just recently the bill (Senate Bill 7) was approved by the House in a 64-57 vote and was passed by the Senate in a 25-14 vote. And on March 25th, Governor Brownback officially signed the bill. Republican supporters of the block grant proposal said it would provide schools a stable source of revenue and flexibility in handling their expenses and the Governor says the current school finance formula was too complicated and designed to thwart accountability. But Democrats and some moderate Republicans said the bill didn’t provide enough funding, hurt all districts, but especially poorer ones, and future cuts were probable because of the state’s dire revenue situation. Actually, this block grant will negatively affect almost 80% of all the school districts - the poorer districts. The wealthier districts are not affected.
To put another kink in this process - a three-judge panel on March 13th said it may block any new school finance plan from taking effect while the lawsuit over the current school funding system continues. This move came just hours after the Kansas House approved repealing the current school finance formula. The three-judge panel overseeing the lawsuit has scheduled a May 7 hearing in the case.
According to the figures coming from KSDE, this Block Grant will cut from USD223 $76,984 this school year, and our district budget will be $70,849 less for the 2015-16 and $49,102 less for the 2016-17 school year.
As you know, the 2014-15 school budget was approved last summer and thus absorbing an $76,984 loss in the next 3 months is a huge task. Because of this possible shortfall, the USD223 Board has approved the following cuts for the remainder of this school year:
- no regular education summer school
- reduce four student contact days;
- Monday, April 27th
- Monday, May 4th
- Wednesday, May 20th
- Thursday, May 21st
These cuts came with much discussion and apprehension as we, like most districts, have had little warning until recently of such drastic fiscal cuts. More budget adjustments will need to be made prior to the end of our school fiscal year which is June 30th if (SB 7) follows its course.
Surprisingly, the newly approved “block grant” isn’t even a week old and the “new” preliminary finance formula has just recently been released. Apparently, the finance proposal have been under development since before the beginning of the legislative session. The proposed school finance bill provides a base amount of funding per student and also additional funding based on population density and poverty. Perhaps the most distinct aspect of the plan is that is also provides and withholds funding based on a "Success Index," that attempts to measure a student's progress after high school graduation.
As proposed, the legislation would start some districts as a pilot project next school year then expand over the next two years to replace the so-called block grant education bill. The Governor stated he thought the old formula was too complicated and wanted a much more simplicity version. However, at first glance, this proposed “new” finance formula is far from being less complicated than what districts were using before.