The Manhattan-Ogden School District looks almost greedy in balking at a legislative proposal to reduce state aid to the district if the number of military students drops from the first student count date on Sept. 20 to the second count date on Feb. 20.
It would seem that the district wants something for nothing. However, it isn’t quite that simple.
The proposal is in a bill extending the second count date for districts that serve significant numbers of military students. It would consider the number of students who have left the districts between September and February as well as the students who have arrived in determining state aid. At present, the state considers only military students who have arrived since the first count date.
It should continue that policy. It should do so in part because meeting the needs of military students, many of whose parents are deployed or in the process of coming or going during a school year, is often more expensive than meeting the needs of civilian students. School Board Vice President Dave Colburn cited, for instance, the need for additional school counselors because military students often are in a chronic state of adjusting to new homes, new schools and new classmates. Also, the moves sometimes cause students to fall behind their classmates, which involves extra services.
Another reason to maintain the status quo involves the funding itself. The Pentagon distributes federal money to school districts whose students include military dependents. Unlike most states, Kansas collects that money from the districts as it would property taxes, and, as it does with property tax revenue, distributes it as it deems appropriate. Changing the law pertaining to the second count date, which could involve several hundred thousand dollars a year, might make sense to a state bureaucrat, but it would be a disservice both to military students in the Manhattan-Ogden School District and to the district itself.
Although the Legislature might not consider the proposed funding change anti-military, Mr. Colburn was right in saying the military could well interpret it that way. Given the recent announcement that the Pentagon will undergo additional rounds of base closings to meet future defense needs, it is essential that Kansas lawmakers remain military-friendly as well as business-friendly.
The Pentagon has invested vast sums of money in this state, and the state annually reaps huge benefits from the military installations, soldiers and their families. Ensuring that Kansas school districts such as USD 383 have the resources to meet the needs of children in those families isn’t expecting too much.