- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas would tie part of its spending on public schools to how well their students do after high school under a new education funding plan reviewed Tuesday by a legislative committee.

The Senate Education Committee had a hearing on a plan drafted by Chairman Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican. He said his goal is to ensure that schools are educating students well enough so that they can enter careers that at least allow them to be part of the middle class. GOP leaders said Abrams’ proposal is a starting point for discussions about creating a new formula over the next two years.

Abrams’ proposal would create a new school funding formula that would be tested on six school districts during the 2015-16 school year before being expanded to all 286 districts over the following two years. About 15 percent of the state’s funds would be distributed based on how many high school students in each district enroll in higher education, receive an occupational certification, join the military or get a job paying at least $14 an hour within two years of graduating.

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed a bill this month that would scrap the state’s existing, per-student funding formula and give districts “block grants” based on their current aid. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to sign the measure, but the new system for distributing more than $4 billion in aid annually would remain in place for only two years, while lawmakers draft a new formula.

Several superintendents in the pilot school districts said they’re excited by the idea of creating incentives to have students succeed. The state’s soon-to-be-jettisoned formula was designed to ensure that each district’s costs are covered, so that the state fulfills a duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide a suitable education to every child.

“This framework is powerful. It’s a radical change in school funding,” said Mark Crawford, superintendent in Hugoton, one of the six pilot districts. “This could be monumental for the state of Kansas if we can get it right.”

Besides Hugoton, the pilot districts would be Concordia; Marysville; McPherson; Kansas City, Kansas, and Blue Valley, in Johnson County.

“What I’m most excited about is that the conversations are centered around student success,” said Concordia Superintendent Bev Mortimer.

But the plan also drew plenty of criticism, including from Dave Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a small-government, free-market think tank that’s influential with GOP conservatives.

Trabert said there’s no sense that the levels of funding set by the bill are tied to research of what’s adequate for schools to properly educate students. He also said the state shouldn’t wait until a student has graduated to determine whether he or she is successful.

“If they’re not progressing as needed in the third grade and the fourth grade and so forth, their success will be limited,” Trabert said.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who serves on the committee, also predicted that the plan would lead to big increases in local property taxes.

The state allows local school districts to levy property taxes to supplement their state funds but caps the amount they can raise at about $2,340 per student. Abrams’ plan would eliminate the cap on local property taxes.

“This is too heavily laden with property taxes,” Hensley said.

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Online:

Abrams school funding plan: https://bit.ly/18VmWc4

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna


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