The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 11, 2012

Area officials: Kansas State Board of Education’s funding request unrealistic

While the Kansas State Board of Education recently agreed to seek an additional $450 million in state funding for the 2013-2014 school year, many area school officials see the move as mostly symbolic.

“Whether it comes to fruition or not is up for debate,” said Baxter Springs Superintendent Dennis Burke. “The fact the State Board of Education requested this amount is important for this reason: The amount is what we were told we would receive. This is the money we were promised by legislators.”

Board members are asking to increase the base state aid per pupil from $3,838 to $4,492, which makes up more than $440 million of the board’s request. Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner at the Kansas Department of Education, said that $4,492 is the amount the Legislature adopted in 2009, but has yet to fully fund.

There have been some slight increases adopted by the Legislature. In May, the Legislature increased the general state aid to districts by about $40 million, which increased the base state aid per pupil by $58, bringing it to the current $3,838.

“This is an advocacy budget,” said Jana Shaver, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education who represents about 30 counties in Southeast Kansas. “We advocate for our students in Kansas, but our state law does specify a level of funding for base state aid. Our decision was to recommend what the law says. We hope they will try to do the best that they can. We know it’s a big number, but we want the highest level of funding possible for our schools and for our students.”

Shaver said that Southeast Kansas has been particularly affected by budget shortfalls because it has one of the highest unemployment and poverty levels in the state.

However, state Rep. Terry Calloway, R-Pittsburg, said that the per pupil spending amount is just a suggestion and does not actually dictate the amount spent on students across the state. He says the funding actually averages closer to $12,500 per student.

That figure, however, includes other programs like food service, capital outlay, teacher retirement and bond interest, which are not included in base state aid per pupil, according to Dennis at KSDE.

“The state of Kansas invests considerably more (in education) than other states,” Calloway said. “By comparison, why does it cost so much more to educate pupils in Kansas than in other states? A lot of things have to be considered. At least from the state’s standpoint, there has never been a time when schools thought they had enough money.”

In Columbus, Superintendent David Carriger said the district has lost about $1.6 million in funding over the past five years, which has forced it to make cuts to programs and reduce staff.

“We’ve tried to keep academics and extracurriculars intact as much as possible,” he said, adding that the district has not had a summer school program for a couple of years and no longer offers an after-school program because of funding cuts.

Carriger said he felt the state board’s actions were admirable, but not really feasible, especially with the current Legislature in place.

But with the upcoming August primary and general election in November, that may change.

“This election will have a huge outcome on the future of school finance,” said Burke, the Baxter Springs superintendent. “We’re counting on people who hold education in high regard and recognize the importance of it in attracting new business.”

Burke said his district is currently operating on less money than it did in 1992 inflationary dollars.

Riverton Superintendent Todd Berry said the funding formula for the state is adequate in that it “accounted for low property wealth and low enrollment,” but it cannot fully function if it is not properly funded.

“If we’re not going to fund the formula, that puts school districts in economically struggling areas at a huge disadvantage,” Berry said.

State Rep. Bob Grant, D-Frontenac, said that as state revenue decreases with growing tax cuts, a greater burden will be placed on people through increased property and sales taxes by local governments and school districts trying to recoup that money.

“Over the years, we’ve cut revenue,” Grant said. “We’ve increased schools’ ability to increase the burden on locals. Whenever you take away revenue or add tax cuts, it takes away from these programs. We’re asking people to do more with less funding, and we’re starting to hurt the education that the state is required to provide.”

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