Rural School Districts Happy

Small rural districts were fairly pleased with the funding decisions of the legislative session, says publisher Dave Seaton.

Robert Scheib, superintendent of Unified School District 208 at Wakeeney says that there will be more money for teacher raises. (Teachers get paid. How about pay for performance? Differential pay for harder-to-staff subjects?)

Funding for “at-risk” students will rise 10 percent in the next year–though “at-risk” means low-income and non-English native. That’s not necessarily the same population as students who are not doing well in school. As the article points out, “the district itself determines how that money will be spent.” (Here’s an idea: give that money in a voucher to families. Let them decide if the student would benefit from summer school, tutoring, or another option.)

In addition the “base per-pupil” state aid will increase. While the new number–$4,316–looks low, various grants and additional “weightings” in the funding formula boost the average school spending amount to well over $9,000 per student,  or double the base aid figure. One of those weightings is  based on having a low enrollment. “Some of that weighting survived in the 2006 legislation, but its future is uncertain.”

Where did the new money (in a case of overreach, imposed on the taxpayers by the Kansas Supreme Court) go?

At that time [of the appropriation], the new aid was estimated to cost $466 million. The findings of the Supreme Court and a post-audit study for the Legislature led many to expect the lion’s share of new money would go to a few large, urban districts.

This did not turn out to be entirely true. Small districts were “held harmless” and allowed to average their enrollment over three years to apply for state aid. A big, special at-risk fund for large districts did not materialize.

As it turns out, the stated increase in state spending was understated: “The latest cost estimate is for the entire school finance package is $491 million, [Deputy Commissioner Dale] Dennis said Monday.” And it will go higher: “This does not include teachers’ retirement funds.”

Also affecting the budget: having to comply with federal rules on Medicaid:

A $40 million repayment to Medicaid, the federal/state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, has increased the total cost. Kansas has “bundled” its special education students in applying for Medicaid reimbursement, Dennis said, and this did not conform to revised Medicaid rules.

Lawmakers made a $17.5 million down payment on the Medicaid bill this year.

(Source: Session was better to small districts than expected, Winfield Courier,  June 6)

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