Hensley: Legislature continues to defy court order, underfund schools

By State Senator Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka

Republican leaders announced their block grant proposal on Thursday, March 5. By Monday, March 9, the House Appropriations Committee held a three-hour hearing on the bill. The next day, the committee worked the bill, amended it, inserted it into a previously-passed Senate bill, and passed it out of committee. One week later, members debated the bill on the floor of the House for several hours. By Friday, the bill passed on a vote of 64-57. Monday afternoon, the bill passed the Senate on a vote of 25-14.

Unlike the current school finance formula, which took an entire session with careful consideration of formal research to create, this bill is traveling a dangerous and reckless path – much like the 2012 tax plan, the failed economic experiment that has left the state $600 million in the hole and counting.

This block grant legislation cuts the budgets of schools by $51 million for the current school year. These cuts are to Capital Outlay State Aid and Local Option Budget State Aid funds, the same funds that the court mandated that the Legislature equalize funding for last year. This bill is very dis-equalizing. In fact, hours after the final vote, the District Court panel released an order implying they would block any new school funding plan from taking effect while the school finance lawsuit is still pending.

The block grant also eliminates base state aid per pupil and uses a “lump sum” figure based on what the state has budgeted for the schools in the current school year, regardless of enrollment, for the next two years. If enrollment goes up, the school will not receive any additional funds to cover those students. Additionally, it does away with district weightings that account for special needs of children such as transportation, at-risk, low enrollment and bilingual services.

Finally, it pits schools against each other – rural against urban, small against large. In Osage County, all of the schools face cuts: USD 420 Osage County, -$37,000; USD 421 Lyndon, -$42,000; USD 434 Santa Fe Trail, -$134,000; USD 454 Burlingame, -$17,000; and, USD 456 Marais des Cygnes, -$27,000.

In short, this bill creates unnecessary challenges, and continues to inadequately and unfairly fund schools. It now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Correction: After publication of this editorial, Sen. Hensley learned that numbers provided by the Kansas Department of Education for the Osage County school districts were incorrect. It factored in a 33 percent local option budget, when in reality it is 30 percent. The editorial was edited to correct the error.

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