Category Archives: At-Risk students

Wrap-up of the Legislative Session

KSDE has gone into podcasting.

On the KSDE home page, selecting News and then Podcasts will take you to some audio (and video) files from Dale Dennis (Interim Commissioner) and Veryl Peter (Director of School Finance). Look for the files “Legislative Update.”

The most recent update was recorded on May 2. In it, Dennis (with a few comments from Peter along the way) reviews the most significant legislation of the past legislative session. The roughly 25 minute presentation is divided into five segment.

We’re not sure whether these files can actually be used on an iPod or not. We were unable to import them into the iTunes software. You can hear (and see)  the files in the Windows Media player, which comes standard on many computers.

Here are some notes of the presentation.  Most of it is composed of paraphrases rather than direct quotes.

Part 1:

Increase of base aid per pupil

Increase in the weighting of at-risk students

Threshold for getting high-enrollment weighting has gone down

SB 68

Funds non-proficiency at-risk students, and says states must have an anti-bullying policy.

“Highly encourages” character education in all grades. “Gets close” to a mandate.

 

Part 2:

Update your crisis plan.

 
SB 95: No more juvenile detention facilities, but instead ‘psychiatric treatment facilities.” No other change.

SB 109: Lets districts pay new hires before schools open, as long as they are working.

SB 129: Schools must notify law enforcement of any student suspensions or expulsions. Law enforcement will notify drivers services, which will pull drivers licenses of offending students.

All day K:

Governor proposed 5-year phase in. “Everybody thinks all-day kindergarten is a great deal, unfortunately this year the money ran out.” It will not be implemented.

SB 362 KPERS: Lets non-school government employees sing up right away and not wait for a year. (School employees already had this.) Has a 5-year vesting provision. Multiplier .175 is the same. You can use a 3-year average for determining benefits. Now changed to a 5-year average for any who start after July 1, 2009. Normal retirement age is 65 +5 of services or 60 years old with 30 years of service

Part 3

Adds 2 percent COLA for 65+. Employee contribution is now 4 percent. Now, it will be (for 2009 hires) 6 percent contribution. Rate will match what the state contribution is in the future. There is also a $300, one time payment for people who retired in prior to July 1, 1997.

Unfunded liability of KPERS is a problem. Through 2033, this bill will save the state $2.6 billion, at least half of the unfunded liability will be addressed this way.

SB 2185

Covers 5 teacher scholarship programs, especially noteworthy for loan cancellation.

Other:

Idea to hold a second student count during the school year did not pass.

SB 2310

Local option budget is at 31 percent max. You have to have an election to use this. If you have a declining enrollment or COLA levy last year, you may continue what you had last year. This affects only a few districts.

Part 4

Most districts have to have an election to go from 30 percent to 31 percent LOB. They don’t think that having an election is worth the trouble for that one percent.

SB 2368

More about LOB. Allows a district to go to 32 percent with an election. Also: $400,000 for an after-school program, requires local match, 2-hour program, and a summer program. No school can get ore than $25,000 from the state

Teacher mentoring: $1,000 per teachers to serve as mentors to year-one teachers. Includes $500 for mentoring a second-year teacher.

Special ed: Still working on how much supplementary fund districts will get. 

Part 5

Go after every dollar of Medicaid that you can (Medicaid). Funding could go up to $26,500 for special ed. “That isn’t too bad.”

We’ve seen a lot of post audit activity. Recruitment and retention report: not much new. There will be a problem; 33 percent are 50+, 25 percent will be eligible for KPERS in 5 years.

Virtual schools: said we are lax and need to follow the original plan for monitoring. Districts may not give virtual school students to other districts. We will go back to original guidelines within 10 years. The rules were there but we did not monitor them.

There will be a charter school out in the next week to ten days.

An early childhood ed audit is underway.

There will be another audit for voc ed. The focus will be on the cost of individual programs.

Advertisements

More School Funding

Last year’s generous increase in school funding could be expanded upon:

SCHOOL FINANCE: Last year, the Legislature approved a plan to phase in a $541 million increase in aid to public schools over three years.

Under a bill approved by the Senate on a 35-5 vote Wednesday, the price tag of the plan would grow by $20 million, to $561 million.

Part of last year’s plan set aside $10 million for programs that help children who are at risk of failing, distributed based on how many of a district’s students aren’t proficient in reading and math.

Other at-risk funding was guaranteed for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, but not the $10 million in question. The bill would extend that funding indefinitely.
Source: Wichita Eagle, February 21

What Should the Legislature Should do About At-Risk?

The Topeka Capital-Journal offers a review of its recommendations for the legislative session. Front and center: education.

“We’d all feel better about the second and third years of the education plan,” an editorial reads, “if you could assure us Kansas has enough money to pay for it. A better-than-expected state revenue forecast helps ease our concern somewhat, but we’d suggest you find a way to lock away once and for all the millions and millions of dollars demanded by your friends across the street at the Supreme Court.”

On the related matter of at-risk students, the paper had this to say:

“We’d encourage a closer look at the controversial and difficult-to-monitor issue of “at-risk” students. Turns out, the already rather pricey education bill might be unnecessarily padded because of confusion about the number of at-risk students.”

We’re all in favor of sound accounting practices, of course. But instead of simply giving more money to schools based on their head count of “at risk” students, why not help out those students by giving money to their parents, in the form of a voucher that can be used at the school of the family’s choice? That’s one way to avoid the conflict of interest that arises when the schools that certify students as being “at risk” automatically get the extra funding for having an at-risk student.

Source: 2007 Legislative Session–Get to Work

Meanwhile, the Emporia Gazette reports that the definition of “at risk” could be up for debate:

“Some details of the school finance plan may also get some tweaking, said Rep. Don Hill, R-Emporia, such as how to define an “at-risk” student. Right now, that’s based on whether the student qualifies for a free or reduced-cost school lunch. Changing the definition could impact districts with high “at risk” populations, including Emporia.

‘It’ll be looked at, for sure, to see if there might be a better way to put those numbers,’ Hill said. ‘It’s certainly not perfect. The question is, to the extent that it has flaws, can it be improved on?’”

(Source: Lawmakers prepare for new term, Emporia Gazette, January  6)

At-Risk Funding of $111 Million

The KC Star offers more information on the story of overstated at-risk numbers:

“In the 2005-2006 school year, Kansas schools got almost $111 million for at-risk students, based on the 135,000 students who qualified for free lunches.”

The reason? “[P]arents had understated their income on program applications.”

This is one category in which Kansas was not above average–its 17 percent rate of ineligible participation was virtually identical to the rate found in a national study in 2004, the Star says. That report came up with an 18 percent rate.

Do the errors have any impact on school spending? Apparently not. “The Kansas auditors found that even when ineligible students are identified, the numbers used to set at-risk spending weren’t adjusted.”

Some legislators fear that the study will be used as a rationale to cut funding to schools. Maybe. Maybe not. One thing should be clear: regardless of what the legislature (or court) determines to be the appropriate spending level, the budget should be determined by open, transparent adherence to clearly understandable, and enforceable rules.

Overstating Low-Income Enrollment, Again

Overstating the number of low-income students has implications for both state and federal budgets.

The Lawrence Journal-World picks up on the LPA report on “at-risk” enrollment that we talked about yesterday. It mentions that the funds for free lunches actually comes through the federal government. That’s a point we should have made yesterday, though it got overlooked.

More interesting, though, is the reminder from the LJW that “At-risk funds are spent on a number of education programs and don’t necessarily go to help free lunch students.”

The newspaper also points out a discrepancy between state numbers and census numbers: “The Census Bureau data said there were 76,000 children at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, while there were more than 130,000 free lunch students.”

So it looks like there is some overcounting going on. Why? One reason may be that school officials can’t do a good job of auditing.  “Under federal law, [Paula] Murrish [director of food services at Lawrence USD 497] said she is allowed to verify only 3 percent of both free and reduced lunch recipients.

Overcounting Low-Income Families

Schools get a bonus or each student from a low-income family. The Kansas City Star now says that a state report alleges that districts have been padding their statistics.

According to the Total Expenditures by District report from the KSDE (open up your copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader and then click on “State Totals”), there were 441,868 full-time equivalent (FTE) students in the 2004-05 school year. (We don’t have the numbers for this year, but it shouldn’t be much different). Official numbers say that 135,294 students considered “at risk,” based on family income. That’s 31 percent of all students declared “at risk.”

For two years, Ken Daniel, who publishes KSSmallBiz.com, has argued that the numbers are inflated. (See: Which Kansas Districts Cheat the Most?, January 2006; Education Council Recommends Continued Cheating, October 2006, and Free Lunch Cheating: Exchange With Superintendent, November).

Are Daniel’s claims right? We like to operate in good faith, and hestitate to accuse school officials of cheating. It should be said, however, that the Kansas Legislative Division of Post-Audit now says that the number of at-risk children is too overstated.

Of the students considered to be at risk, 23,000, or 17 percent, don’t qualify. The result is an additional cost to state taxpayers of $19 million.

Getting the numbers right is an important financial consideration. According to the Star, “By 2008-09, the state will be spending $261 million on at-risk programs, five times as much as it did in 2004-05.”

Also: “Districts receive extra money per student – $822 for the 2005-06 school year, rising to $2,021 by 2008-09.”

So who’s to blame? The possibilities are several: overly aggressive (or perhaps simply incompetent) school employees, parents who game the system for whatever purposes, and parents who are tripped up by the reporting instructions.

Open up your copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, and call up the report at the Post-Audit web site.

$1 Billion More

Plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit are asking the Supreme Court for another $1 billion over 3 years.

The Journal-World includes excerpts of the briefs filed with the court:

“The bill’s funding is not allocated based on the actual and necessary costs of providing a suitable education.”

“In fact, the funding is distributed in such an inequitable manner that it exacerbates the unconstitutional disparities existing in the system prior to the adoption of SB 549.”

“The state calls this inequitable distribution of funds a ‘political or public policy question.’ The Plaintiffs call it unconstitutional.”

And here’s an interesting point of data that is consistent with the idea that legislators systematically overspend in order to form a majority coalition when it comes time to count the votes:

While districts with large proportions of at-risk students are getting shortchanged, smaller and mostly rural districts are getting more than the cost study said they actually need, the attorneys argued.

Universal Preschool?

A Wichita Eagle news article, in an editorialish flavor, reports that universal preschool is a great idea.

There is a growing national push from educators and several state governors to create pre-K classes for all children. Several states have already begun to do it. National research seems to show that quality preschools keep many kids from dropping out of school and falling into crime later in life.

We’ll get to that in a moment. But consider this:

The cost of universal preschool nationwide would be in the tens of billions of dollars. The cost in Kansas would be at least in the tens of millions.

To be sure, it’s being sold as a cost-saving measure. Among the problems with universal preschool: it’s not clear at all that the problem with American education is what happens to students before they enter school. On international tests, they do well. It’s only when we get into the higher grades that Americans fall behind.

Perhaps we ought to first consider fixing the higher-level grades by improving the possibilities of charter schools, which often specialize in at-risk students, who are presumably the same population that advocates of universal preschool have in mind.

New Budget in Place

There’s a new bill for funding schools. But will it last? School funding bill signed by governor

By JIM SULLINGER The Star’’s Topeka correspondent TOPEKA – Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday signed into law the largest increase in state education aid in Kansas history, but the bill still faces scrutiny from the state Supreme Court.

Here’s where some of the extra $466 million (over 3 years) will go:

During the first year of the three-year plan, nine school districts with high concentrations of low-income students will receive an additional $564 per student, compared with the state average of $354. Those districts are Kansas City, Kan., Turner, Leavenworth, Topeka, Wichita, Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchinson and Coffeyville. By contrast, the six school districts in more affluent Johnson County will see an average increase of $221 per student. All members of the Johnson County legislative delegation voted against the plan.

Those interested in policy details will want to know that the bill points out the bill has created a new term to the funding lexicon: high density at-risk.

Yet Another Legislative Plan

From the KC Star:

TOPEKA — The fourth time was the charm Thursday for the Kansas Senate in its efforts to adopt a school-funding plan.

A $466 million proposal passed 24-16 following three previous unsuccessful votes last month. Several weeks ago, a $558 million bipartisan proposal crafted by Democrats and moderate Republicans was approved by the House.

So legislators have the option of choosing between more, and more.

Actually, there are other differences as well.

At risk funds: $101 million, Senate; $173 million, House

Total increase in basic state aid over 3 years: $86 million, Senate; $77 million, House

The article includes other differences that may be worth noting.

Senate Rejects All Plans

Too much, too little, or just right? That’s the question that senators pondered as they debated various funding plans. As it turns out, there was no agreement, and thus, no plan.

[Majority leader] Schmidt said the Senate was divided between those who think the plans are too large and would bankrupt the state and those who don’t think enough money is being offered. There are also differences on how the money should be spent.

So how did things shake out?

A majority of Republicans favored the lower-spending Barnett bill, but Democrats and several moderate Republicans voted against it.

Barnett said he would not give up.

“We have 20 Republicans who are willing to spend a large amount of money for schools over four years that does not require a tax increase or state-owned casinos,” he said. “So we’re very, very close.”

Most Democrats said they favored the House-backed plan because it would spend more money for at-risk students and significantly increase the ability of school districts to tap local tax revenue, a key provision for Johnson County lawmakers.

Funding Formulas

How much does a school get for a student? It’s a complicated question. You start with a base amount of state aid for each student. Then you add in a number of other factors, called “weightings.” The Kansas Department of Education gives some information, while the Blue Valley district puts some of the same information into a somewhat more understandable language.

Meanwhile, the prolific Kenneth Daniel calls for eliminating or modifying many of these weightings. Of particular interest: base “at-risk” funding on students who are failing academically rather than on economic status. Even if one takes the position that the correlation between “low income” and “at risk” is strong, and even causal, there’s something to be said for getting extra funding to students who have shown not merely a propensity for academic trouble, but a history of it.

Will $610 Million Do?

The Kansas City Star says that Kansas House narrowly passes education plan. (HB 2986)

TOPEKA — A $610 million school spending plan pushed by a coalition of House Democrats and Republican moderates was narrowly approved today by the Kansas House.

Senate leaders said they plan to vote next week on a $660 million plan proposed by the Senate Education Committee.

Will the state actually be able to afford the package? That’s one question being asked by some members of the House. Other questions not asked: will the legislature be able to muster a tax increase if required? Or cut spending elsewhere? The plan may (or not) satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court, but then again, the Court has the luxury of not taking other budget priorities into account.

Here’s the breakout of the House plan:

Basic state aid: Increased $50 per student in each of three years. Current level is $4,257 per student. Cost: $77.2 million

■ At-Risk state aid: Increases from $822 currently to $2,125 in the third year of the plan. Cost: $173 million.

■ All-day kindergarten: Cost: $15.4 million the first year, $23 million the second and $30.8 million in the third.

■ Special education: State subsidy increases $30 million the first year, $25 million the second and $25 million the third.

■ Aid for large school districts: Increases $14.2 million in each of the three years.

(Which definition of “at risk” would apply? Test scores or socioeconomic status?)

One wonders where the money for “small districts” is: isn’t everyone entitled to more? That seems to be the operating pattern here.

Also, in a nod to Johnson County, the limit on LOB (local funding) increases, going up two consecutive years from 27 percent today to 33 percent in the second year. With the court’s blessing, it could be eliminated after that–a step towards local control but away from equality of spending.

Meanwhile, the Wichita Eaglereportss on what funding that plan through tax increases would mean one of the following:

■• Sales tax increase of 2 cents on each $1 of retail sales, or

■21.88 mill increase in property taxes, or

■ 21.9 percent income tax surcharge, equivalent to an additional $641 for someone earning $75,000 a year.

To put that into perspective, the statewide sales tax is 5.3 percent. Local governments are allowed to level their own sales tax add-ons; as this 14-page PDF document (Sales and Use Tax Jurisdiction Code Booklet) from the Kansas Department of Revenue points out, many local governments use this provision. The move would push sales tax rates in a handful (or two) of areas into double digits: that is, over 10 percent.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of education. But maybe it’s possible to overpay for it.

No Budget in Sight

So what budget package will emerge from the Legislature? The Wichita Eagle says All Bets off for school funding bill.

“You’re going to have a lot of ‘no’ votes on this plan for a multitude of reasons,” said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. “This is a hard time.”

The article points out that the House package has taken a “let’s fund both” approach to defining at-risk. Extra money would be allocated to districts based on poverty numbers and on reading scores.

Be Careful What You Wish For

A school finance plan is emerging in the House: another $610 million for schools. It appears to be a win for the “all you need is more money” crowd:

The new plan would direct most of the new money to at-risk students who qualify for the federal free school lunch program for low-income children. It is hoped this will satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court order requiring lawmakers to increase education funding.

The new plan also mirrors many of the recommendations in a January audit of school costs initiated last year by the Legislature. That audit suggested the state needed to spend an additional $400 million on public schools.

Oddly enough, some backers of the plan object to one provision that would allow schools to get even more funding:

Rep. Ward Loyd, a Garden City Republican, said the main sticking point in negotiations with Democrats was a provision in the new plan that allows school districts to dramatically increase local levels of spending over the next two years then completely eliminates the current limit on local spending in the third year.

It’s that equality thing: if Dodge City or Wyandotte County (say), can’t raise as much money as Johnson County, then JoCo shouldn’t be allowed to increase their taxes, as wise or foolish as that may be.

We wonder how many of those same people complain about the State Board of Education trampling on the idea of “local control.”

Who is At Risk?

There are two main ways of assessing who is “at risk” — sociology, and performance.

The sociological approach says that children from low-income households are “at risk.” What may be dubbed the performance approach says that students who have, well, performed poorly are the ones at risk for further academic troubles.

Johnson county doesn’t do so well under the sociological/monetary approach. It’s wealthy. And of course legislators from JoCo want to get more money out of Topeka, so some have pushed for the performance-based approach. That’s what they got, in what is a tentative legislative reversal. Says the KC Star:

Friday morning, the committee reversed a decision Thursday to base extra ““at-risk” dollars on the number of kindergarten through 12th-grade students who score below proficient on state math or reading tests.

Authored by Rep. Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, the proficiency definition provided Johnson County a lot more money than the current definition: the number of low-income students who qualify for a free lunch.

The budgetary implications are significant: $8.5 million less would go to Wichita under the performance-based approach. That’s because Wichita is, relatively speaking, poor.

Under My Thumb

The Topeka Capital-Journal adds some color to other reports that the Senate education committee has endorsed a $660 million (extra) plan for schools.

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, cited as “a token fiscal conservative” on the committee, said of the plan “It’s too expensive.”

Perhaps. But the reason isn’t simply that the dollar amount may strain the budget. It’s that money spent in less than the best fashion is “too expensive.” And in this case, pouring more money into a district-centered approach, rather than a child-centered approach is “too expensive.”

Sen. Barbara Allen, R-Overland Park, spoke about the controversial proposal to raise the cap on the LOB: “I don’t know why the rest of the state wouldn’t want us to tax ourselves.”

Why indeed–though a misguided desire for “equality” may be one reason.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, meanwhile, seeks the big coalition approach to dealing with “at-risk” students. One viewpoint is that “at-risk” money should be based on a district’s poverty rates. Another is that the money should be based on the number of students doing poorly on tests. Vratil says “Why not give money to both groups.” His idea was not accepted by the committee.

Finally, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, is calling for more money, with this argument: “We really don’t have a choice. We’re under the court’s thumb,” Morris said.

Senate Plan Passes Committee

How much more? According to the Senate’s education committee, $660 million per year more.

Nearly 3 out of 4 new dollars–$480 million–would come from state funds. Can that extra amount of funding be supported by current tax levels? There’s some suggestion that it’s doubtful.

Says the Wichita Eagle:

The committee’s biggest change was to allow districts to use additional dollars set aside for programs to help at-risk students pay for all-day kindergarten instead.

“At-risk” students have been one cause for which calls for increased funding have been issued. Is this a case of bait-and-switch?

Who Qualifies for Free Lunches?

Fall below an income threshold, and you receive some public benefits–and your school district gets more money from the state.

Kenneth Daniel has argued that school districts cheat the state by over-reporting the number of low-income students. Following up on this them, he recently published an edited version of an e-mail exchange he had with one superintendent. It’s interesting reading. A fundamental difference between the two individuals is whether or not “low-income” can, for policy purposes, be equated witih “at-risk,” as in “at-risk students,” for whom state taxpayers pay extra money.

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.”

A Brief Review of Kenneth Daniel’s Testimony

Here’s a follow-up to the entry on Kenneth Daniel’s critique of the LPA report on school finance.

Daniel was invited to testify before the House education committee. As expected, he blasted the report, calling it a “badly broken, unfair, and dishonest school funding formula,” and asked legislators “to discount and ignore virtually all of the ‘conclusions’ and recommendations of the new LPA Cost Study.”

That said, his testimony did raise some important questions and observations. Assume that there’s a correlation between family income and student achievement. (That is, the free-lunch group scores lower on tests than the reduced-price group, which in turn performs lower than the full-price group.)

Point 1: Are those differences statistically significant?
Are differences in student achievement by different income groups statistically significant? We must confess that we need to spend some time looking in to this question. Daniels makes much of the low correlation between the two.

Point 2: And if those differences are statistically significant, what then?
Assume that there are statistically significant differences in achievement according to income group. Can we propose a theory for why this is so? Daniel suggests native intelligence, a provocative and possibly inflamatory idea that, whatever its merits, is unlikely to be the entire or even major explanatory variable.

Is there anything that policy can do to address the achievement gap? Popular solutions include smaller class sizes and higher across-the-board teacher pay. But it may be that none of these solutions work. The evidence on small class size is inconclusive. Across-the-board teacher pay rewards incompetent as well as effective teachers, and actually harms the best teachers by sucking up money that could be used for merit pay.

Point 3: The state has two definitions of “at risk.”
Low income is often used as a proxy for at-risk students. But shouldn’t at-risk actually focus on students with a history of low achievement? Daniel has a point here. It’s hard to defend increased spending for “at risk” students if we do not use a consistent definition of “at risk”–and target services at those students, and those students alone.

So What Should Lawmakers Do?
Say Daniel:

Provide at-risk funding for the actual students who are not performing at proficiency. Provide a strict definition. Provide monitoring and audits. Do not allow at-risk funds to be rolled into general fund budgets. We are testing every year now, so the qualifying data as fresh as the free-lunch statistics, and will be much more reliable and tamper-proof.

We would prefer to introduce some more market forces into the delivery of education. But what we have under consideration (put on the plate by the Supreme Court) is increased funding for “at risk” students. It would seem that the path to take is to identify schools with the most students who are at risk–based on poor scores on state assessments–and then direct money in that direction.

How to spend that money? Simply putting money in the hands of school officials would be akin to rewarding poor performance. A better solutions, perhaps, is to extend money to parents of students in poorly performing schools–and let them use the money for any approved purpose they wish. That could mean supplemental tutoring, text books, computer programs, or even for tuition at private schools.

Senate to House: Check, and Raise

The Kansas House has already discussed adding $500 million to school funding. According to KMBC-9, the Kansas Senate may go the House another $160 million better for a total increase of $600 million.

So far, no plan for increased funding includes provisions for either increased taxes or spending decreases elsewhere. In short, the bet is that the state can grow itself out of the demands for increased funding. Perhaps.

Budget projections from legislators’ staff suggest that while the state can afford a big increase in spending on schools during the fiscal year that begins July 1, the additional aid, absent new revenues, would cause serious budget problems after that, with a shortfall appearing as early as fiscal 2008.

Said budget hawk Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, “Clearly none of the plans balance.” (According to the account in the Eagle, see link below, 15 Senate and House Republicans condemned both plans as “fiscally irresponsible and unaffordable.” That’s a small number out of the entire legislature.)

Here’s how the two plans diverge so far:

The Senate plan puts $180 million in school funding in the first year, plus $70 million more through changes in a law allowing districts to raise additional local property taxes, for a total increase of more than $250 million. Schools currently receive more than $3 billion from the state each year. The House plan commits $175 million in new state dollars to schools in its first year, but more than $69 million would go to programs for at-risk students.

Naturally, the KASB (school boards) lobbyist likes the more generous plan from the Senate.

The two chambers also have different plans for treating high-poverty districts. The Senate would give extra money to Dodge City, Kansas City, Liberal, Topeka and Wichita–the top 5 districts in terms of students receiving free lunches.

The House would give extra money to Hutchinson, Kansas City, Leavenworth, Piper, Topeka and Wichita, in a formula that relies on population density.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star leads off with the bipartisan nature of the Senate plan. It also points out that each plan emphasizes at-risk students.

But,

One major difference is that the Senate plan requires $180 million of the $660 million to come from local revenue sources. For most districts, that means raising local property taxes.

Other provisions of the Senate plan:

Basic state aid would increase by $50 per student from the current level of $4,257.

■ The level of additional at-risk dollars would increase to $1,154 per student from the current $822. That would cost the state an additional $30.3 million.

■ An additional $10 million would be provided to five districts with high poverty rates, including Kansas City, Kan.

■ More money would be allowed from local revenue sources. Currently, districts can increase their operating budgets by 27 percent using local funding. That would increase to 29 percent under the Senate proposal.

A similar article from the Wichita Eagle, Senate offers schools plan, adds that the operating budget number rises to 30 percent in the final year.

Still Not Enough?

Bruce Baker, a University of Kansas education professor, says that taxpayers must still pay in another $2,850 per student for the Kansas City, Kansas schools. Schools for Fair Funding, a group that wants more money for its member schools, brought Baker to speak before a House committee in Topeka.

Speaking of last week’s $500 million plan, the KC Star says

Under the House plan, extra money for failing students in six high-poverty districts would increase from $822 per student currently to $1,594 next year, for a total of $5,901 per student in general and at-risk state aid.

Baker says that’s not enough, arguing that a new study from Syracuse University professors was more appropriate.