••• Education •••

An Open Letter to Teachers Regarding the Proposed School Funding Law


School funding is a complex and confusing proposition. Trying to understand it is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle face down. Adding to the perplexity is the fact that school finance is a very dynamic process. State legislatures across the country are frequently adjusting their public education funding methods. This is particularly true in Kansas because for the better part of the past quarter century, court actions pursuant to a seemingly endless string of lawsuits have forced the Kansas legislature to make even more changes in school finance.

Following the process has become even more challenging this year. Last year the legislature passed a short term (three year) bill to finance schools while they proceeded to forge a permanent school finance law. It is known as “block grant funding.” Without going into details, the court once again intervened on equalization, this time threatening to close schools this August over what amounts to less than one percent of state funding. The legislature, just last week, scrambled to pass a stop-gap bill to please the court.

In the midst of that comes House Bill 2471, which was introduced in the legislature, also last week. If passed, it would become the permanent school finance law.

As a teacher, you may be asking “Why should I care? What does this have to do with me? How will this new finance law, or any finance law for that matter affect what I do as a teacher?” The truth is, the amount of money a school gets had little impact on the day-to-day job when I was a teacher. I remember teaching during the period from 2005 to 2010 when education funding was a rollercoaster ride. After the Montoy ruling a decade ago, the one in which the Supreme Court ordered nearly $800 million in new education spending, most of us got a bigger raise and maybe a few new teaching tools, but teaching was still teaching. When the economy crashed a few years later and more money to education was temporarily halted, teaching was still teaching.

Neither extreme had much impact on my day-to-day teaching responsibilities. You likely had the same experience if you were teaching during that time.

Finally, ask yourself this: How much difference has block grant funding made in my teaching this year? Sure, it remains a topic around the proverbial water cooler but has it actually impacted your day to day?

So why should you care now? One difference is HB 2471 has a section that establishes a new “USD efficiency incentive program.” If you are like I was, you are constantly seeing ways that school districts waste money. Whether it’s the way school staff are allocated, the way purchases of goods and services are made, or dollars wasted on frivolous programs that do not improve student outcomes.

If HB 2471 becomes law with this section intact, teachers (or any school district employee) will have the opportunity to submit plans to identify inefficiencies with resulting cost savings. The bottom line is that you could get 10% of whatever is saved if your cost savings can be certified.

Even if that doesn’t interest you, do yourself a favor and use this as an opportunity to learn how education funding works. Kansas Policy Institute has put together an informational brochure that provides some basics on school funding. I know in my 20 years in the classroom that school officials often gave us bad information (almost always doomsday stuff) regarding money.

Don’t let those in the media or school officials or anyone else spoon-feed you filtered information (including me! – although I would be happy to answer questions). Find out for yourself. Make up your own mind. Along the way you may come to appreciate the process and understand why the old formula didn’t work from the perspective of those charged with responsibility for providing money for education: the state legislature.