- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - While Republican Gov. Sam Brownback argues that Kansas should adopt a new approach to funding its public schools, educators want lawmakers to return to a familiar, per-student formula for distributing state dollars.

Brownback has told reporters in interviews this month that in designing a new funding formula the GOP-controlled Legislature should provide incentives for improving students’ performance. He said his administration would offer some proposals, but he wasn’t more specific.

Superintendents and local school board members told the governor’s office in emails this fall that the state should return to using a formula that distributes “base” or “foundational” aid per student, with “weightings” to provide extra dollars for each child with special needs. They also argued for full state funding of all-day kindergarten programs.

Republican legislators junked such a per-pupil formula in 2015 - with Brownback’s support - in favor of giving each of the state’s 286 school districts predictable “block grants” based on existing local budgets. But legislative leaders intended the new system to be temporary, and lawmakers expect to draft a new formula for distributing $4.1 billion in aid a year.

“I don’t think too many people are turned off with a formula based on enrollment,” Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said Thursday. “It is hard to predict right now how the Legislature will address it.”

Brownback and his legislative allies argued that the pre-2015 formula was too complicated and didn’t put enough state dollars into classroom instruction. Also, as conditions in districts changed, the state could be tapped for extra dollars - a problem with Kansas struggling to balance its budget following massive income tax cuts championed by Brownback in 2012 and 2013.

The governor and legislators also are waiting for a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on whether the state’s total spending on its schools is enough to provide a suitable education for every child. Kansas has been in an out of lawsuits over education funding for several decades, and the latest was filed by four school districts in 2010. A decision is expected by early next year.

Brownback said in an Associated Press interview last week that the funding system should include incentives for improving student performance because legislators should “keep the end objective in mind.”

“What I’m going to be looking at is that we start to think differently about the funding system,” Brownback said.

But Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association teachers’ union, said he worries that proposals to “incentivize success” would siphon money away from poor school districts and districts with large numbers of immigrant or special education students.

“The bottom line is, some school districts have enormous challenges to overcome,” Desetti said. “Those are the schools that need support the most.”

In comments emailed to Brownback’s office, superintendents and school board members repeatedly said funding should be tied to the cost of educating each child, with extra funds for poor students, students at risk of failing and children with other special needs. The Kansas Association of School Boards’ recommendations take a similar approach.

“Return to the previous funding formula,” officials in the Remington district northeast of Wichita said in proposals submitted by Superintendent James Regier in October.

Superintendent David Carriger, of the Columbus district in southeast Kansas, wrote in another October email: “The former finance system is fair and works if funded correctly.”

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


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