Widespread Agreement: Give Us More

The Wichita Eagle says that current plans for the next fiscal year are in trouble:

Proposals from the House and Senate for solving Kansas’ school funding dilemma already appear to be in serious trouble.

Legislators’ opposition to the two plans is fueled by:

• Differences over how the money should be divided, with some questioning why so much is going to large urban districts

• Projections of large budget deficits in the second and third years of the three-year plans.

It’s possible that neither plan is sustainable, raising pressure to expand gambling. While that has its own problems, the alternatives are just as difficult. They include:

– Raising tax rates (offend those who favor limited government)
– Not increase school funding (offend the Kansas Supreme Court, and most politicians)
– Pay for increased funding through offsetting cuts (offending state employees, program beneficiaries, and the politicians who protect both).

Where does structural change, such as vouchers for at-risk students, come in? One can only hope.

If there’s anything that the pols agree on, it’s that they need more money. The differences appear to be who gets the extra money:

– House Majority Leader Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, wants to take $22 million from the House plan, money targeting the six districts with the highest proverty rates, and spread it across the 300+ districts in the state.

– Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, wants that money to go to higher-poverty districts, including Kansas City.

– Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, “aid the issue of a separate state aid category for high-poverty urban districts was never addressed by the court.”

– Many educators urged lawmakers to broaden the definition of students who qualify for the extra money. Currently, the extra at-risk dollars only go to low-income students who qualify for the federal free lunch program.

– The Blue Valley’s superintendent, Tom Trigg, wants more money, on the ground that he’s got 4,200 students who are performing in the lowest category of the state proficiency tests. Blue Valley has only 445 students who qualify for free lunches. If Trigg gets his way, the prevailing logic–give the money to districts with the highest rate of poor students–gets turned aside. You might say that it rightly changes the focus towards those districts where students are at actual academic risk, not economically-predisposed academic risk. Or you could say that such a plan rewards schools that have done the weakest jobs of doing their work.

– Oh yes, small rural schools say they aren’t getting enough either. Jerry Cullen, superintendent Ashland School District, gave this message. Like Trigger, he, too “urged an expanded definition of an at-risk student.”

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