Archive for Thursday, April 7, 2005

Superintedent pans new school funding law

Lansing would receive extra $151 per student, lowest in state

April 7, 2005

The Lansing school district will receive the smallest increase in state aid among of the state's 304 districts if the Kansas Legislature school finance plan is approved as is by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Under the one-year plan approved last week, the Legislature will raise the base state aid per pupil from the current $3,863 to $4,222. The plan also increases funding to at-risk students, bilingual education and special education. When the sum of the increases is totaled and divided by the number of full-time students in Lansing, the new money the district will receive will be $151 per student.

The legislation also will allow districts to raise their Local Option Budgets, paid for entirely by local property owners, to generate an amount equal to 27 percent of a district's general operating budgets in 2005-06. The current cap is 25 percent.

In addition, Lansing is one of 17 districts that qualifies for a cost-of-living increase. The district may opt to raise property taxes to earn up to 5 percent of its general operating budget and use that money to pay teachers to defray their cost of living in an expensive district. The general operating budget is determined by a formula based on the number of full-time, at-risk, bilingual and special education students, in addition to other stipulations.

Lansing Schools Super-intendent Randal Bagby said he did not expect to use either property tax increase option because "it just gouges local patrons more." In addition, he said the logic was flawed in the cost-of-living provision because most Lansing teachers don't live in the district.

"I do not recommend that our board utilize either feature of this ridiculous bill, LOB or the weighting for cost of living, so the only benefit that Lansing will see is the meager $151 per FTE (full-time equivalent)," Bagby said.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, voted for the plan. He said that it was not a perfect plan, and, like Bagby, he does not support the provisions to increase local property taxes. However, he said he voted for the bill because it would provide a total of about $2.6 million for Leavenworth County and about $316,000 for Lansing School District.

"That's a pretty good chunk of new money coming in," he said. "I hope they put it to good use."

Wilk explained that the state's wealthier districts get little state aid because most of their budget can be raised through property taxes. He said that Lansing also received less funding because of the low number of students classified as at-risk.

"Most people would say we're blessed or fortunate to not have a lot of kids in those situations," he said.

Students are classified as at-risk if they receive free or reduced lunches. Wilk said the correlation was that their economic status can sometimes lead to other problems.

Wilk said he expected the bill to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled in January that the Legislature was not meeting its constitutional mandate to provide a suitable education for Kansas schoolchildren. He said he saw no reason for the court to throw out the whole bill though there were some clauses it might strike.

The finance plan only addresses funding for the 2005-06 school year. Wilk said that during that time, he expected the Legislature to look at the actual cost of education. One of the main criticisms of the Legislature's school funding plans, he said, was that the original base state aid per student was a "political number," not one based on actual costs. The new plan is built upon the previous, and possibly flawed, formulas that are already in place, he said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has said she would allow the funding bill to become law without her signature and forward it directly upon receipt to the Supreme Court. It was not known when justices would consider the new legislation.

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