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Lawmakers Consider Radical Change In Kansas School Funding

Sam Zeff

The battle lines were clear as Kansas legislators began hearings on the most radical change in school funding in the state in a generation.

Republican leadership in the Statehouse wants to scrap the current school funding formula and replace it, for two years, with block grants while they work on a new formula.

At a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee, the state's business interests lined up on one side of the bill and educators, from superintendents to the state PTA, lined up on the other.

Republican leaders say the current school funding formula is too old, too complicated and inflexible.

But administrators from Hutchinson, Wichita, Topeka and Independence all said block grants would be bad for their students.

“The beauty of it is, it’s been researched for years and it’s tied to what it costs to educate kids," says Kansas City Kansas School Superintendent Cynthia Lane.

One major problem educators say they have with the block grant plan is that it doesn't automatically supply more money to a district if it enrolls more students. The current formula takes that into account in addition to whether a student needs special services, extra transportation or is an English language learner.

Testifying on the other side was the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Kansas Policy Institute.

Chamber CEO Mike O'Neal, a former Kansas House Speaker, says under the current formula too much money goes into administration rather than the classroom. He says if districts had more flexibility in how they spend state education money, more dollars would find their way into the classroom.

But, the fact is, for two hours educators lined up to testify against the bill.

Rep. Jerry Lunn, a Republican from Overland Park, says that baffles him.

“Well, I can’t explain it to be honest with you," he says. "I think this gives them the most local control they’ve been asking for. I can’t explain why they’re afraid to have that decision-making authority.”

The committee will continue work on the bill Tuesday.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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