You've heard a lot about the school funding formula in Kansas. Be aware. Some of the leadership in Kansas wants to discredit the formula, in favor of limited government and reduced state funding for public education and other services. Allowing the formula to be discarded is a mistake.
Here’s how the formula works.
The current formula is designed to account for districts’ demographics and student needs. The formula is also based on the assumption that sufficient funds are budgeted, so that districts have enough resources to provide every student with the opportunities to achieve the state education standards, as specified in the Kansas Constitution.
Distributing funds to districts is complex because districts’ needs are unique, with many moving parts. A fixed-dollar amount, one-size-fits-all system (as with the Governor's proposed block grants) does not adjust for changing needs within a district, across districts, or from one year to the next.
Here is how the current formula distributes the state education budget.
Base $ per student
The formula starts with a base amount of money per child. The base amount is intended to provide enough classroom funds to help one typical child achieve the state education standards, set by the State Board of Education. Current base funding authority is $3,811. This lower rate reflects Governor Brownback’s mid-year cut and is about $600 less than in 2008-09. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the current base funding authority isn't enough, with studies reporting actual costs closer to $5,500 per student. Yet the Governor has proposed to lock in the current base rate through 2017 through the block grant approach, without adjustments for inflation.
x (number of students)
The base number is multiplied by the number of children served by each district. Generally, additional students mean additional funds, and fewer students mean less. The Governor's proposed block grants, which allows for no funding changes through 2017 whether enrollment goes up or down is simple, but not equitable or logical.
+ (extra $ for ALL children to achieve)
Some children live far from schools, as they do in rural districts, making transportation costs higher per student while other districts have a lot more students to transport. The formula multiplies the number of children eligible for transportation services by the actual transportation cost, and adds that to the money sent to a district. Some children need a boost to level the playing field and overcome obstacles that interfere with their achievement of state education standards. For example, districts are reimbursed in part for the number of teachers and paras required to serve students with disabilities, and the resulting money is added to the district's funds. Children living in poverty are provided free or reduced price breakfast and lunch (over 50% of Kansas students). The formula multiplies the number of eligible children by a fixed cost to provide them with nutritional services as wells as math and reading resource teachers, and adds that to the district's funds. About a dozen total weightings are used, adding needed resources for vocational students, English language learners, virtual education programs, cost of living adjustments, new facilities if enrollment changes are large, declining enrollment, ancillary school facilities and high density population of at-risk youth. The block grant ignores these factors moving forward and virtually eliminates a district’s capacity to be transparent and fiscally accountable.
= $ to the school districts
This recap about covers the basics for determining each district’s operational (“classroom”) funding. The formula is complex because the task is not a simple one. Student populations differ, each district is unique, and changes take place from year to year. Additionally, districts’ authority to use different funding sources is restricted. Only youth with disabilities, for example, can make use of funds that are allocated through state and federal disability funding sources. While these rules make the process complex, the “silos” allow districts to be accountable, transparent and to get the money where it’s intended to go.
Trying to fix a complex issue with a simple answer will always ignore the details.
In this case, the details being ignored are Kansas children.