The bill to eliminate the existing school funding formula and replace it for two years with block grants has passed the KS House (after a long and questionable delay while one more vote was sought), and will shortly surely pass the KS Senate. This bill purports to give school districts more money, more flexibility, and a steady source of income.
It does none of those things, and ushers in an era of political panhandling in education that we have not seen in a decade.
- Read our Legislative Update: Rushing to Get Our from Under the Supreme Court
- Read MainStream's testimony opposing this bill.
More money? No. As written, it spends more money on "education," but almost all of that increase goes to retirement benefits, a category that was not included in "education spending" until late last year, when they lumped it in to tout an "increase" in money for education. Fooled the voters then, so they went back to that well this time.
More flexibility? No. While districts may spend these block grant sums as they see fit (e.g., no longer required to spend certain funds on certain populations) the block grants will not change from year to year, even for cost of living. If enrollment changes, population needs shift, or anything happens, districts are out of luck. A small "emergency fund" exists to which they may apply, but that will be a drop in the bucket.
More surety? No. In fact, we may not even get out of this legislative session with any assurances. This bill does not appropriate any money. In the next few weeks, the Legislature will have to come to agreement on a budget. At that time, expect these block grant funds to be cut, when it comes clear that Kansas does not have enough money.
And then there's the politics.
During Thursday's floor debate, an amendment was introduced by Rep. Ryckman (R) to allow for an increase of $200,000 for "those school districts" who suffered a lower valuation this year than their valuation last year, due to a bill passed last year by this same Legislature to give tax relief to cement companies in southeast Kansas. Some opponents suggested they were buying votes.
And that's the problem. The finance formula set out exactly how much and why funds were given to school districts. Yes, it was complicated, but it worked.
The new way is rife with potential for favoritism, shady deals, and unclear motives. Someone needs something, we'll just throw an amendment in to raise or lower their block grant allotment. Someone raises a stink, this system makes it entirely possible their district may be punished.
This is politics at its worst.
We'd like to give a shout out to the 57 legislators who stood with their conscience and voted against this bill. Their reasons were many, from the unknown fiscal burden to the fate of school children to the unsavory process (see above) but they refused to turn away from their constituents. Thank you.
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