- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Critics say that a new Kansas bill to protect current out-of-district students in school districts does not address the problem of state budget cuts.

The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1HxyEWe ) reports Republican state Sen. Ty Masterson’s new bill is designed to let current out-of-district students remain in their districts. It will not require districts to continue to accept new out-of-district students. But some say it does not address budget cuts related to the state’s new law establishing temporary block grants for schools.

The block grant law eliminates Kansas’ school finance formula, which lawmakers say they will rewrite during the next two years. During that two-year period, districts will receive grants that largely freeze their general aid at this year’s level. According to Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, this law says the block grant law undermines the concept of school choice by underfunding schools, which has led some schools to block enrollment from students outside their boundaries. Kelly says “they need to preserve what dollars they do have for students that reside in the district.”

Masterson says that the law is not responsible if parents have fewer school options next year. He also suggested that districts that will not accept out-of-district students are manipulating the block grants. Seaman Unified School District 345 and Silver Lake USD 372 will not accept new students who live outside their boundaries next year.

“What that does,” he said, “is, over the two years, it gains them money.”

Jeff Zehnder, director of communications for Seaman Unified School District 345, says that is possible only if districts can cut costs. According to Zehnder, Kansas’ school population is growing, which means more costs for things like utilities and insurance.

“This bill blocks something that no one is doing,” Zehnder said. “Is this bill good public policy, or is it just trying to make educators look bad? We would never do what this bill considers. It would be wrong for us to drop all transfer students because of a bad decision by the Legislature.”

According to Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, more districts may stop out-of-district enrollment, but it may not become a widespread trend. He says that some small districts do not want to risk losing potential students long-term as they currently struggle with declining enrollment.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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