USD 466 to lose $136,000 in state funding
By Rod Haxton, editor
$76,340 coming out of 2014-15 budget
Scott County and Wichita County schools would lose more than $130,000 in state aid this year and in the next two school years under a school funding plan approved by the Kansas Legislature and awaiting Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature.
The block grant funding plan will replace the school finance formula that has been in effect since 1992.
Scott County schools were supposed to receive $5.75 million in funding for the 2014-15 school year, based on final audited enrollment numbers approved by the state. USD 466 will instead see that amount reduced by $76,340 in this year’s budget as part of a legislative plan to cut $51.8 million from education spending statewide.
Block grant funding will be further reduced by $53,698 in 2015-16 and in the following year it will be cut another $6,231 - a total loss of state funding amounting to $136,269 this year and through 2016-17.
These figures do not include KPERS contributions at the local level which are sent to the state. Some funding figures being released by the state have wrapped KPERS money into the overall package to give the impression that state funding will actually increase even though this money is not spent on salaries, classroom instruction or other in-district costs.
Even with higher enrollment, which the USD 466 administration is projecting for the 2015-16 school year, the state will not increase funding under the block grant program. The legislature has pledged to have another school finance formula in place for the 2017-18 school year.
$131,000 Loss for Leoti
The Wichita County school district finds itself in a very similar situation with state aid cuts amounting to $131,463 over the next three years.
Of that, $60,722 will be cut out of the current year’s budget.
The district was scheduled to receive $3.22 million in state funding for its 405 full-time equivalent enrollment. That will instead be reduced to $3.16 million this year.
“That’s money we were counting on, but now we’ll have to return it to the state,” noted Supt. Keith Higgins.
Next year’s block grant will provide the district with $48,358 less in state aid than it was due to receive this year. By the 2016-17 school year, the reduction in state aid will be $22,333 below the original 2014-15 state aid figure.
“We’re getting less money over the next two years even though expenses will increase. And how can you take care of your employees and give them the raises they deserve when you’re getting less money?” Higgins asks.
Some USDs Gain
Not every school district is projected to lose state funding under the block grant proposal. Neither of the Lane County schools will see funding cuts, though their gains will be minimal over the next two years.
Neither district will be asked to return money from this year’s budget. The Healy district is to receive $698,302 and the Dighton district is to receive $1,712,703 in state aid.
In the 2015-16 school year, Healy will see an increase of just $2,886, plus another $8,937 in the 2016-17 school year - a total gain of $11,823. The district has an enrollment of 79.5 FTE.
Dighton will get a boost of $7,079 next year and $21,920 the following year for a total of $28,999.
They are the exception, however. The block grant program is slated to chop $51.87 million in school funding this year. The reduction in state aid will amount to $47.8 million in 2015-16 and $30.89 million in 2016-17.
Those reductions are using 2014-15 as a “base” year.
In other words, the overall savings to the state of $130.65 million doesn’t take into consideration the increases in aid that would have occurred under the former school finance formula based on higher enrollment, increases in at-risk or ESL students, etc.
If no permanent formula is approved after two years, the legislature would then have to decide how to fund schools at that point.
The absence of additional money as enrollment climbs is an element in the plan that has brought criticism from school administrators and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).
“An increase in student enrollment typically means additional money for salaries, the ability to hire more staff and to meet the needs of at-risk students,” says Scott County Supt. Jamie Rumford. “If the grant dollars are frozen that’s going to put some limitations on us.”
Republican supporters of the block grant proposal said it would provide schools a stable source of revenue and flexibility in handling their expenses. Brownback called for a block grant plan, saying the current school finance formula was too complicated and designed to thwart accountability.
But Democrats and some moderate Republicans say the bill didn’t provide enough funding, hurt all districts - especially poorer ones - and that future cuts were probable because of the state’s dire revenue situation.
School officials and KASB testified in opposition to the bill.
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