K-12 funding focus shifts to FY 2014 proposal

By Bryan Richardson

K-12 education would maintain its level of funding under Gov. Sam Brownback’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal unveiled Thursday.

However, the education story of the 2012 legislative session won’t involve the FY13 school funding. Rather, it will involve looking ahead to FY14 and Brownback’s school finance formula proposal.

Other than shifting technical education funding from school districts to the Board of Regents and Board of Education, the funding process is relatively the same for FY 13. That includes the base state aid per pupil being held at $3,780 and it also includes $6.1 billion in overall funding, down from $6.2 billion this fiscal year.

Most of the attention related to K-12 education will be on the finance formula proposal, which would take effect with the following year’s budget. Details of the plan include the base state aid per pupil being set at the statutory amount of $4,492, and removal of the formula weightings, restrictions on how to spend money and the cap on the local option budget.

Jon Hummell, one of the architects of the education formula, said the administration developed the plan to help prevent the decreasing funding problem faced by school districts. A selling point is that no district will receive less money than it is currently getting.

“The idea behind the whole proposal is to set a new minimum funding for education for all districts moving forward,” Hummell said.

Hummell said the statutory base state aid per pupil would continue to serve as the floor for funding unless the state legislature decides to go lower. The state hasn’t funded the schools at the statutory level of $4,492 since that figure was put in place.

“We would suggest that unless something very unforeseeable happens, it would stay at that level or go up from that point forward,” Hummell said.

State Rep. Sydney Carlin and Sen. Roger Reitz both said the current formula works, and contended that the money is not being put into it. The lack of funding in the formula has been the cause of two lawsuits by school districts in recent years.

Reitz said Brownback’s proposal doesn’t address the state’s unwillingness to provide enough funding. “His intervention is not going to be the answer to the problem,” Reitz said.

Hummell said fully funding the current formula would involve a $1 billion tax increase, which he said would represent a 36 to 38 mill increase in property taxes statewide.

Carlin said after the 2005 lawsuit concerning the lack of funding of the formula, the state was on its way to acquiring the money when the recession hit.

“We set out on a three-year, four-year plan to raise $1 billion for education starting in 2005,” she said. “We were within $59 million of that $1 billion goal when the recession hit and we were unable to fully fund the court’s request.”

Much of the state’s financial future is tied to the reform of both the school finance formula and Medicaid as indicated by Thursday’s budget presentation. The state is projecting growth in the state general fund while being able to maintain a 7.5 percent ending balance for most fiscal years through FY18, assuming the reforms do occur.

Reitz said many times the difference between wants and needs is misconstrued. He said education and health is a need while the 7.5 percent ending balance, another statute frequently not met, is under the category of a want.

Although he knows raising taxes is unpopular, Reitz said the state has to do what it can to raise money for the needs in Kansas. “I’ve been that way ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “People have known that’s the way I’ve voted.”

An area of concern about the proposal is whether the difference in quality of education would widen between the wealthy districts and the poor districts.

Hummell said the state would work to maintain a balance even if a district in a wealthy county such as Johnson County implemented higher property taxes.

Hummell said if a wealthy school district goes above 106 percent of its previous year’s funding, the poorer districts would also move to 107 percent and be provided more from the equalization fund.

He said districts receiving a matching percentage increase would be “every school district that receives more money under our formula than the old one. Those school districts are the ones I’m talking about.”

For area districts, this would mean Wamego USD 320, Rock Creek USD 323, Riley County 378 and Blue Valley 384 would increase beyond 106 percent. Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 would not be elevated to that level.

Hummell said the districts gaining money could be provided some property tax relief under this plan if the board decided residents needed it. “It’s important to remember that under this plan, all of those gaining districts could lower mill rates and still receive a little bit more or the same amount of money received last year,” he said.

Reitz said he thinks the equalization efforts will fall short due to a formula that would require more reliance on local property taxes. “It probably will not fulfill the job that needs to be done in those particular areas,” he said of the equalization fund. “They have small towns like Ogden in those districts and very few of them as well.”

As a way to counteract the governor’s plan, Democratic legislators came up with their own plan under which the state would use half of the fiscal year’s tax surplus until base state aid per pupil reached $4,492.

Carlin said the equality of education is threatened under the Brownback formula.

“District to district, we would have an unequal amount of taxes being levied for schools,” she said. “One of the constitutional requirements is that all children have an equal opportunity for education.”

Carlin said the weightings in the current formula, which accounts for things such as a district’s transportation, English Language Learners, at-risk students and new facilities, also contribute to quality of education being equal.

“(Brownback’s) saying that weightings aren’t important and they shouldn’t be a state concern, and I still feel it’s a state concern,” she said.

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