SCHOOL FINANCE UPDATE
The House of Representatives has set up a select committee on school finance to study the school finance formula in response to the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision. This week the committee discussed several important issues, including bi-lingual weighting. The legislative and state board of education research shows that the 73 districts in Kansas that receive weighting for bi-lingual students spend about $10 million more than the present weighting provides. The districts presently receive over $9 million in a formula which provides weighting of 0.2% based upon contact time that the bi-lingual student has with a ESOL (English as a second language) teacher. Districts, however, spend over $19 million providing services to the ever increasing number of bi-lingual students.
Dodge City, Emporia, and Garden City have high percentages of bi-lingual students, from 40% to over 60%. Many of these students are in families where the parents work in the meat packing industry. Some districts have many languages and dialects among their students. We heard testimony last summer that it takes 5 to 7 years for a student to reach proficiency so that they can learn in the second language, and that is if the student stays consistently in the program. Many of these students move from place to place.
In many cases, the bi-lingual students are also considered “at-risk” students, which in Kansas means that their family income is low enough to qualify for free lunch under the federal school lunch program. The committee discussed whether the bi-lingual weight and at-risk weight could be combined. There was also discussion of changing the bi-lingual funding to a grant program that districts would apply for, based upon their services and programs.
Chairman Kathe Decker pointed out that, based upon what school districts are actually spending on bi-lingual, the weight should be more than doubled, perhaps to 0.42%. Other members of the committee seemed concerned that some school districts are spending only what they receive in state bi-lingual funding and other districts are spending many times what the state is providing. This happens because districts have more discretionary money because they levy a sales tax or a full 25% Local Option Budget. There may be grant money for bi-lingual programs. Districts that are cutting programs and positions due to restricted state funding for several years may be limiting their services to bi-lingual students because they have no spare general fund money and they don’t want to cut educational services to rank and file students. The staff assured committee members that at-risk funds cannot be used for bi-lingual services, which usually are to provide services from a teacher who is highly qualified to teach non-English speaking students.
This week there will also be discussions on at-risk weighting, transportation weighting and vocational education weighting, and suitability. In the past, there has been a discussion about changing the legislative definition of suitable education, which is presently found in many statutes, including the graduation requirements, the regents’ admission requirements, accreditation requirements and other directives given by the legislature to the state board of education which require Kansas public schools to provide curriculum and other educational services. Last session and during the interim, some legislators wanted to limit the definition of suitability and then the state would fund only the requirements in that narrowed definition and the rest of the education costs would be borne by local taxpayers. The school finance issue is a complicated yet vitally important issue to our state. Today’s knowledge-based economy requires that Kansas students are given the best education possible. It is the legislature’s duty to provide students a first-class education and provide Kansas businesses with the talented workforce they need to succeed. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this very important issue!
SECOND ENROLLMENT COUNT DATE FOR SCHOOLS
The House passed a bill this week that allows school districts a second date to count students if there is an increase of 25 students or 1% of total enrollment. This allows for an increase in funds to accommodate new students. The increase must be the result of increases in enrollments of dependents of full-time active military personnel or military reserve who are engaged in mobilizing for war, international peacekeeping, national emergency, or homeland defense activities. Both Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley are expecting a large deployment of troops into their area of the state. It is expected to begin in late summer and fall and continue for two years. These deployments will cause a rapid increase in students. An amendment was offered on this bill to make it apply to all Kansas school districts that experienced an enrollment growth for any reason. The amendment failed during debate.
HOUSE AND SENATE COMMITTEE ACTIVITIES
In the House…
• Government Organizations and Elections—The committee held hearings this week on HB 2041 regarding the use of unexpended campaign funds and HB 2083 regarding the consolidation of Topeka and Shawnee County government.
• Higher Education—The committee is holding hearings on HB 2072 which provides tuition waivers to the dependents of active duty military personnel killed in the line of duty.
• Federal and State Affairs — The committee held hearings this week on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1601, which defines marriage as only occurring between a man and a woman. The resolution’s second part also stipulates that “no relationship, other than marriage, shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage.” The committee favorably passed the resolution out of committee without amendments.
• Taxation— The committee is holding hearings on several bills to fix the bill passed last year that charges sales tax on used cars based on the blue book value of the car, rather than the purchase price. Many people are concerned that this bill has no consideration for cars sold in bad condition.
In the Senate…
• The Senate Judiciary Committee debated changes to the death penalty in response to a December Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.
• A bill has been introduced that would limit sales of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. These medicines are common ingredients in the production of methamphetamine. By limiting access to ingredients, this bill is aimed at halting production of the drug.
• The Senate is currently considering a bill that would double the traffic ticket fine for speeding in school zones. Tickets would be a minimum of $60, with additional fees depending on how far over the speed limit the driver would reach. This bill would also create a new fine of $60 to anyone speeding pass a stop sign held by a school crossing guard.
• The Senate Elections and Local Government Committee is reviewing a bill that would require same day notice for campaign contributions made the last 11 days of the campaign. Candidates for state and local office receiving any contribution of $300 or more would report these contributions prior to the end of the business day to election officials.
• The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee is reviewing an extension of a current law that allows children in schools to carry emergency medication, like inhalers for asthmatics. The current law is set to expire in June, but the Senate may extend the law to 2006 and allow students in all grades to be covered by this provision.