EDUCATION BILL ADDRESSES INTENT OF COURT RULING
In striking down Kansas’ school finance law in January 2005, the Kansas Supreme court ruled that the formula was based on “political and other factors not relevant to education” and instructed the Kansas Legislature to construct a suitable formula based on the actual costs of education. Senate Bill 549, a three-year $466.2 million school finance plan that was passed with bi-partisan support last week, demonstrates that the Legislature can craft school finance laws based on the costs of actually educating a child.
The plan would add approximately $100 million increase in Base State Aid Per Pupil spending over the next three school years ($59 increase in 2006-2007, $58 increase in 2007-2008, and $59 increase in 2008-2009). In addition, $182 million of new spending is being directed specifically towards at-risk children (students who receive free meals) over the same time period. Special education students would receive over $80 million in new funding, and an additional $10 million would be targeted for students who, based on state assessments, are not proficient in reading or math and who are not eligible for the federal free lunch program (2007-2008 school year only).
I believe that a major strength of the bill was the fact that it provides almost $195 million in additional funding for the 2006-2007 school year alone. This is a significant commitment for a multi-year plan in meeting the student performance outcomes-based shortfall (somewhere north of $316 million) as defined by the Division of Legislative Post Audit study. The plan’s out year financing (school years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009) should narrow the gap even further. I also believe that the plan properly directs the money towards those Kansas schoolchildren that need it the most. The Legislative Post Audit Study provided compelling analysis showing that the bulk of increased funding was needed for at-risk students, with even more money required for school districts having a high percentage of at-risk kids.
As part of its $182 million investment towards at-risk children, SB 549 specifically earmarked almost $30 million for these school districts. This plan will go a long way towards closing the achievement gap for children in poverty. It would have been very easy for me, along with many other State Representatives and Senators, to have voted against this bill on the basis that the bill did not do enough for schools in our respective districts. But our votes were not only based on what was good for our districts; it was motivated by being sure that at-risk children received the lion’s share of additional funding as determined by the Division of Legislative Post Audit study. And so, at the end of the figurative legislative day, the Kansas Legislature passed a plan that was, for most purposes, devoid of politics and instead based on the actual costs of educating a child.