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Education

Kansas Educators Concerned Over Block Grant Legislation

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Stephen Koranda
/
Kansas Public Radio

Educators say they’re more concerned than ever about legislation that would drastically change the way Kansas schools are funded.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican leaders in the Legislature want to scrap the current school funding formula. They say it’s too complicated.

While that formula is rewritten, they want to temporarily fund schools through block grants.

Essentially, what districts spend this year they’d be locked into for the next two fiscal years. However, the proposed legislation has no sunset provision so the block grants could continue after two years.

The state Department of Education Friday released an analysis of the legislation Friday.

It shows a number of things that worry educators.

First, the analysis assumes enrollment will stay flat. This year in Kansas there were 460,526 students enrolled in public schools. That's the same number the state anticipates in two years.

But many districts are growing. For example, the Kansas City, Kansas school district says its added 1,700 students in the past six years.

Olathe says it's added about 2,500 students in the last five years.

Under the current funding formula the more students, the more money from Topeka.

"The problem is the block grants aren't connected to what it actually costs to educate students," says KCK Chief of Staff David Smith.

The block grants also provide no extra money for districts whose students need special services, such as learning English. That's a growing population not only in urban districts such as KCK but many suburban districts.

Olathe, for example, has seen an increase in poor students and English learners over the past several years.

Still, Superintendent Dr. Marlin Berry says he's ready to make block grants work. "This is the way school funding is headed in Kansas even though it will be a real challenge," he says.

The new law also provides for more flexibility in how districts spend their money. Berry says he  likes that provision, but Smith says more flexibility with less money is not a great deal for KCK.

There is a provision in the bill that allows districts with "extraordinary needs" to apply to the state finance council for additional funding. So if a district has a big spike in enrollment, it can ask for more money, but the money isn't guaranteed. The state finance council consists of legislative leaders and the governor and makes fiscal decisions for the state when the Legislature is not in session.

The block grant legislation does put more money towards education, but most of the increase will go to the teachers retirement system--about nine percent of the total budget.

A hearing on the bill is set for Monday morning in the Kansas House Appropriations Committee.

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