← Back to portfolio

Local school officials upset with state funding plan

Published on 13th April 2016
Sumner Newscow local news website
Local Superintendents were quick to condemn House Bill 2741, which is designed to replace the block grant system and get the state in compliance with State Supreme Court edicts.
The biggest points of concern are the removal of state funds for athletics and extra-curricular activities, and allowing money that would have gone to the district to go to a private school or online educational system.
Wellington Superintendent Rick Weiss said the affect on public schools “could be devastating.”
He said if no money was available for athletics, it would deny opportunities for many students, and perhaps a significant number would go to a private school instead. He said that might also put a burden on private schools, and increase competition for a limited number of spots at a private school.
“It is time for the population of Kansas to wake up to the fact that the majority of the Kansas Legislature and Governor are systematically planning the demise of the public school systems in our state.” he said.
Oxford Superintendent Mark Whitener said he supports a parent's right to educate their children at a private or parochial school. But he noted private schools are more selective and they are not as subject to state and federal educational requirements.
“In a sense, some private schools have no accountability to the state.  It seems if a private school receives tax payer dollars, they should be held to the same accountability standards as public schools,” he said.
He said many small schools would not be able to continue offering things like sports or FFA without state support. He said even if local districts raised taxes, they would still not have enough to continue sports programs.
 Clay Murphy, at Conway Springs said if schools had to fund programs without state support, the “pay to play” fees would go up dramatically. He said the fee could easily go up to $250 per student just to play football.
“I understand the philosophy, but the reality is that many activities would have to be cut if this plan was put into action,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he would like to see legislators sit down with school officials so they could work out a system that would work.
“There has to be a respect factor there for everyone to get together and come up with what is best for kids,” he said.
Alan Jamison Superintendent at Caldwell, said the bill would benefit more affluent school districts and would hurt those with lower property valuations.
He said two mils would raise $34,000 in Caldwell, and that would not fund the programs for a long time.
He said people who live in Caldwell and support the schools have put a lot of time and effort into the facilities, such as the football stadium.
“It would be sad to try to maintain them and not have programs or other options than to just let them go into a state of disrepair,” he said.
Jamison said students would eventually go to other districts, and families would eventually move to be closer to larger schools.
“This would eventually cause the demise of small communities,” he said.
Jamison said he thinks the bill needs more discussion and debate, and questioned whether it had been vetted properly.
“Throwing something together like this without being vetted will only complicate the process and lead to more legal action, plus there are many more issues in this bill that will come up that the authors haven't thought about or understand.” he said.
Some school officials say the most recent school funding formula threatens athletics and other extra-curricular activities, and could force some schools to close or consolidate.
Whether that is an over-reaction is unclear, but the formula was introduced just before the state legislature went on its break about a month ago.
State Sen. Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City), who co-authored the bill, said this week the new formula is designed to replace the block grant system, and it provides a “logical rational for methodology” which the courts said it should have.
One big concern local officials have is that it would allow parents to use money that would have gone to the district their children would have attended, to attend a private school or online educational program of their choosing. It would take 70 percent of that money and put it into an account for that student.
The language is remarkably similar to model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that provides model legislation to states around the nation. Their version is called the Education Savings Account Act. Abrams said he was not aware of the ALEC plan, but said he did not write those portions of the bill.
Abrams said all of the money would still be going to the school districts. But he said the fundamental issue is, who should have the final say in their child's education, the state or the parent.
“Currently, it is only those parents with higher incomes that have the option to make a determination that it is in the best interest for their child to attend a private school.   For modest income or low income parents, they don’t have that option; therefore the state requires the parents to send them to public school.  Perhaps a rhetorical question, but in these situations, who is making the decision about the best education for their students?” he said.
Another big problem people have with the bill is that it would not allow state tax dollars to be spent on extra-curricular activities such as sports.
Smaller districts especially, say they would no longer be able to afford to offer athletics, and students would leave to attend bigger schools that could offer sports. That would lower the population to the point the school would be forced to consolidate, some school officials have said.
Abrams said that is not the intent, and he said he is not in favor of forcing schools to consolidate. But he said consolidation happens, and has been happening for 100 years.
Abrams said this is in response to the state Supreme Court decision, which said that extra-curricular activities are not an educational function. He said that while there are educational benefits, from a legal perspective, they are not considered education, so the state cannot support that.
Abrams questioned whether this would mean smaller districts would have to stop having sports and other extra curricular activities.
He said the state athletic association, and the state education department, both say they cannot give numbers on what extra-curricular activities cost because it is not a separate budget item.
The bill may not get a hearing this year, but Abrams said it is an attempt at meeting the court's requirements. He said school funding has increased each year since 2010.