A February 9 blog post by Mark Tallman outlining the KASB school funding positions on some funding elements left out critical perspective that legislators and taxpayers need to understand. Mr. Tallman’s premise is that legislators haven’t fully funded certain aspects of school finance between 2009 and 2017, and even if his numbers are accurate, the impact isn’t necessarily as claimed and he didn’t mention funding that was provided beyond what was statutorily required.
Extra Funding for LOB Equalization
The Supreme Court ruling on Local Option Budget equity provided the Legislature with broad latitude in resolving wealth-based disparity, and did not require specific funding levels. “We agree that the infirmity can be cured in a variety of ways—at the choice of the legislature. And the legislature should have an opportunity to promptly cure. Any cure will be measured by determining whether it sufficiently reduces the unreasonable, wealth-based disparity so the disparity then becomes constitutionally acceptable, not whether the cure necessarily restores funding to the prior levels.” Legislators didn’t have to increase LOB funding beyond the $339.2 million provided in 2014 – but they chose to do so, increasing funding by $320 million over the next three years.
Extra Funding for Transportation
A recent Legislative Post Audit study found school districts received $45 million more in transportation aid than authorized in statute over the last five years because the Department of Education wasn’t following statute. Calculations by Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman and Senate President Susan Wagle put the total overpayment between $300 million and $405 million, depending upon how long KSDE has been ignoring the law.
KASB says school lunch reimbursement has been shorted by 1.6 cents per meal since 2009, or about $7 million over 8 years. The amount may be small but this KASB school funding complaint exemplifies school districts’ entitlement mentality and their unfortunate willingness to divert money from instruction.
The KSDE database shows state funding actually exceeded the amount KASB estimates that it should have been, but let’s take their claim at face value. Instead of increasing all meal prices by 2 cents, or charging adults full price, or cutting costs by outsourcing (as some districts have done), or cutting waste in other operations or using a very small portion of the $68 million in food service cash reserves, local school boards chose to divert money from instruction.
By the way, the KSDE database shows 55 districts turned a profit on food service last year without counting money transferred from other operations or tapping cash reserves.
Mentor Teacher Program
The KASB memo correctly notes that state law “allows for” funding of stipends for a mentor teacher program, which is a clever way of obscuring the fact that state law does not require any funding for the program. K.S.A. 72-1414(b) says availability of stipends is subject to appropriation, which contradicts KASB’s claim that the law was not funded.
Professional Development Aid
Like the Mentor Teacher program, funding isn’t required under statute, it’s merely optional for the Legislature as explained in K.S.A. 72-9608(a).
By the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) calculation, special education funding was $334 million less than calculated by the Kansas Department of Education between 2009 and 2017. KASB says the impact of that is “schools must shift funding from regular education programs to fund services to disabled and gifted students as required by state and federal laws, and makes it more difficult provide services requested by parents.” But here’s what’s missing. Even after providing required services, school districts increased special education cash reserves by $62 million since 2005 – and cash reserves only increase when spending is less than aid collected. Did they shift more than needed from regular education? Did they not need all of the aid collected? More information is needed.
Local Option Budget State Aid
The Legislature froze LOB equalization state aid between 2009 and 2014 rather than providing the full 82.1 percent of equalization, which KASB says reduced funding by $327 million. But KASB left out some very important information. The dollar amount of equalization called for in statute rose largely because districts chose to increase local property taxes – not because more money was necessarily needed but because they wanted more. And when they collectively didn’t get additional equalization dollars from the state (nothing was lost; there just wasn’t an increase), some districts chose to raise local taxes even more rather than spend down excess cash reserves or choose to operate a bit more efficiently. By the way, operating cash reserves increased $460 million since 2005 (which includes the increase for special education).
Capital Outlay State Aid
Funding for Bond & Interest aid increased every year but equalization funding for capital outlay was eliminated from 2010 to 2014, which KASB says would have been $110.3 million. But that doesn’t mean districts had no capital outlay money over that period because the equalization money was on top of money raised locally with a separate mill levy. Also, district reserves for capital outlay collectively increased over that period (again, spending was less than aid collected) and they increased from $321 million in 2005 to $492 million in 2017.