Hensley: School funding clock is ticking

By Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley

Legislators have a constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund Kansas public schools. Yet, as we head past 90 days in the legislative session, we still await a funding formula and the current unconstitutional block grant system runs out June 30. In other words, the clock is ticking before we face yet another constitutional crisis.

Earlier this week, House Democratic Leader Jim Ward and I sent a letter to Republican leaders in both chambers identifying our interpretation of the trial panel and Supreme Court decisions in the school finance lawsuit. We believe that in order to satisfy the Court’s order, a new school funding system must include three key components.

First, it must be an actual formula structured to provide for the equitable and adequate funding of K-12 education. This includes base funding for all students with weightings for underperforming subgroups and indexed.

Second, the formula must be adequately funded by the state to ensure the “outputs” meet the Rose standards, the benchmarks the court has been using to make judgments for student performance. Multiple studies have found a direct correlation between funding levels and student achievements. There is no question that increases in funding will result in greater “outputs.”

Finally, the Legislature must take action to structurally fix our budget to provide for sustainable funding for K-12 education into the future. Allocating funding for schools well into the future ensures we end the school finance litigation we have endured for entirely too long.

The latest numbers distributed by the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance would only increase the base state aid per pupil to $4,080 through the inclusion of $175 million in one-time new funding.

We believe that any school funding plan that seeks to meet the Court’s approval requires no less than $4,500 per student, appropriately weighted, and indexed, by Fiscal Year 2020. It should be noted, though, that this is only $100 more than the $4,400 “high water mark” we achieved under the previous formula in the 2008-2009 school year and is equivalent to a $12.50 increase each year over the last eight years.


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