Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2005

State aid to district ranks below average

December 15, 2005

Several local school districts, including Basehor-Linwood, are receiving less money per pupil than the state average of $9,707, according to statistics recently released by the state department of education.

Of the state's 300 school districts, 103 of them receive less per-pupil funding than the statewide average, department of education officials said.

Basehor-Linwood receives $7,817 per student. Local districts such as Tonganoxie, Piper, Bonner Springs and Lansing also receive less money than the statewide average.

The highest average among any school district for per-student spending belongs to the Rolla school district in western Kansas. The school district there receives $17,850 per student.

By contrast, the Lansing school district receives the lowest amount, earning just $7,244 per pupil. Figures for Tonganoxie, Piper and Bonner Springs run between $7,553 and $8,553, according to the statistics.

Department of education officials expect per-student spending to increase approximately 7 percent during the 2005-2006 school year when an additional $290 million -- approved last year by the Kansas Legislature for education -- kicks in.

The formula for determining state aid is based on several factors, including enrollment and expenditures. It's also determined by the number of students a district has who require transportation and special education or who come from impoverished homes.

The uneven numbers released by the department of education underlie a criticism many have had of Kansas education in recent years: While the state constitution ensures an equal education, the discrepancy between per-pupil funding makes it more difficult for districts to accomplish that goal.

"There is no simple, cut-and-dried answer to what is an appropriate amount," said Jill Hacket, Basehor-Linwood school superintendent. She added, "I think that's a question that comes into the minds of a lot of legislators."

Hackett said Basehor-Linwood is providing a solid education despite its low per-pupil allocation from the state. She added that student achievement -- this year the district was awarded marks of excellence in 13 areas tested on the Kansas assessments -- is not being hindered.

"We're seeing excellent results, which indicates our money is being spent wisely," she said.

However, where the low figure does come into play, Hackett said, is that it sometimes limits the district's ability to offer heftier raises to teachers.

"I think we need to spend more on teacher salaries," Hackett said. "It has been a priority for us to enhance our teacher salaries."

The superintendent said she expects next year's legislative session to be filled with "discussion, if not turmoil" regarding school finance. Opinions on how to offer the best education and, more importantly, how to pay for it, will be widespread.

For now, Hackett said, Basehor-Linwood is setting a good example.

"The outcome for all of us should be our students excelling," she said. "I would say ours are excelling."

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