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Candidate questionnaire: Funding for our public schools
Today we publish the first answers to the questionnaire our readers helped develop for candidates in local statehouse races.
1) In 2011, Kansas cut the amount of basic aid it provides to public schools by close to 6 percent. Where do you stand on public school funding? Is the current amount of aid sufficient? Should the school funding formula be altered? If so, how?
Senate District 7
David Harvey (R)
Public school funding represents the most important part of the Kansas State budget because it incites such pure emotion from all sides. Our schools are the lifeblood of our communities and they are vital to the future of our state. Basic aid to Kansas public schools was cut in 2011. However, for the period between from 1998 thru 2011, public school funding increased from $3.1 billion to $5.6 billion, annually.
This increase equates to a 4.32% annual increase far outpacing inflation plus population growth by 1.32% per year. School enrollment from 2005 – 2011 increased by 3.1% while at the same time teacher employment increased by 4.6% and non-teacher jobs jumped by 8.6%. Statewide, there are now 13.3 students per teacher; counting all employees, the average school district has one employee for every 6.7 students. This information was obtained from the Kansas Department of Education.
The debate turns raucous when solutions start to be offered. My position on public school funding is that the current formula is broken and doesn’t work and needs to be scrapped and a new plan developed immediately. Why is it broken? Because the SMSD currently receives the 13th lowest per pupil funding of the 294 school districts in Kansas. However, SMSD only retain $56 million dollars of the $180 million that residents have approved in local option budget funding. Solving the problem won’t be easy but our kids can’t afford business as usual. They need leaders that will embrace 21st century solutions not a continuation of the current outdated approaches.
Kay Wolf (R)
I am certainly an advocate for adequately funding our public schools. This is irrefutably evidenced by my legislative voting record the past seven years. The current amount of aid is not sufficient. We are at 2009 levels of base state aid per pupil. However, the real issue is the current school finance formula which is not equitable to JOCO. It is based on a weighting calculation for special education, ESL, small schools, and at-risk (ultimately equating to distribution of dollars), etc. which proportionally favor the rest of the state. An example would be Special education and ESL programs. Monies are given to schools based on the number of teachers employed, not the amount of dollars spent on actual teaching. Another example is the at-risk program. Qualification is based on income per household, not on the child’s verified educational risk. The formula needs to be changed to allow more of our tax payer dollars to stay within our schools and a revision in the method of distributing dollars to schools. SMSD is currently in the bottom 10% of
spending funding per pupil (Editor’s note: Correction made at candidate’s request after publication Monday). The quality of our schools cannot be sustained with current formula as written. We should be allowed to tax ourselves for the betterment of schools if we so choose. However, without the votes to make the changes needed, it will not happen. Sadly, I don’t believe we will see a re-write of the finance formula in the near future. The votes within the legislative body are not there. I am hopeful that perhaps we may receive some relief by passage of legislation allowing for expansion of the local activities budget and the use of our own tax dollars.
House District 19
Bruce Belanger (R)
High quality schools have been a key component of the growth of Johnson County for decades, and we must make sure we maintain and improve the schools as a valuable asset to our community.
The rate of spending has outpaced performance outcomes, so when we spend more, we need to make sure that we are impacting the classroom. Over the last decade, state spending on K-12 education has gone from $1.8 to $3.7 billion, while outcomes have been relatively flat. K-12 funding comprises 52% of the state general fund budget and spending per student in the Shawnee Mission School District is almost $12,000 per year (the base state aid for 2012-13 increased by 1.5%). The key is to direct funds towards the programs that matter most that will best educate our children.
With regards to the state funding formula, each of the 286 school districts has unique needs and wants. I would like to see the implementation of block grants that can be used by districts to address unique expenses, operational conditions, or educational goals. Local control can also be improved by increasing limits for local option budget, which would allow communities to raise additional revenue as they choose. Resources should be made available to vocational and technical programs, which would help many students prepare for a career if they do not choose the college path.
A serious challenge to the future of education funding is the rapid growth of social services spending and funding for KPERS. These programs present a real threat to the state budget, and solutions must be developed to avoid other programs from being crowded out of the Kansas budget. This issue has existed for many years, it is time to do something about it.
Stephanie Sawyer Clayton (R)
I would like to see the BSAPP (Base State Aid Per Pupil) fully funded. The current formula needs to be altered in numerous ways, and specifically needs to be changed in order to restore Local Authority to Johnson County school districts, especially the Shawnee Mission district.
House District 25
Megan England (D)
The depletion of funding to the Shawnee Mission School district is currently the most important issue facing Northeast Johnson County. Excellent public schools are the lifeblood of quality communities because they attract young families and new businesses which are critical to strong economies, and they prepare our future generations to thrive in the competitive, innovative workforce of tomorrow. Although Johnson County taxpayers pay twice as much for state school funding as we receive, the Legislature’s deep cuts to education have hit the Shawnee Mission School District particularly hard; recently ranked 265th of the 269 districts in all of Kansas for levels of per-pupil funding.
Kansas K-12 classrooms are currently underfunded by as much as $2,797 per student according to the Division of Legislative Post Audit report. Even the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the funding of public schools inadequate resulting in a mandate that the Legislature increase education funding in annual budgets. However, not only has the Legislature not complied with that mandate, but they have ordered even deeper cuts to education in recent years putting us that much further from targeted levels. This is unacceptable.
The Legislature must begin to take seriously its constitutional obligation to provide quality public education to Kansans by restoring adequate funding to schools. Also, Johnson County residents must be allowed to vote on a Local Option Budget measure that would enable us to raise school funds locally at the level we desire.
Scott Gregory (D)
The amount of basic aid was already below the statutorily mandated amount. The 2011 cut only exacerbated the underfunding. Public school is not adequate and will get worse under the Brownback Tax Bill. Fiddling with the school funding formula is diverting attention and ignoring the real issue – lack of adequate funding. Restore BSAPP to the statutorily mandated amount, and then we can fine tune the formula.
Stephen Foster (R)
Did not respond.
The amount of state spending on education is not the problem. The amount of state general fund that is devoted to education continues to be more than 60%. As a state, we cannot tax ourselves to higher test scores. The distribution of state education funds is the problem.
Most discussions of school finance miss the core problem, which I believe to be too many districts. For example, the Healy School District consistently receives 70-100% more per student from the state than the SM District does. The reason, they have only two schools in the district. They have the expenses and the funding of a school district, but only have a student population roughly equivalent to one SM elementary school. The inefficiencies are staggering and expensive. If we consolidate the number of districts, then we can more adequately fund our schools in Johnson County.
I also believe the school funding formula should be changed to allow an increase in the
Local Option Budget Authority. The current cap on the LOB stands at 31%. I would
propose legislation to raise the LOB authority the first year to 33% and the second year
to 35%. This is the most achievable and realistic way to increase the level of available funding for the SM District. That would only extend the inequity of how much we as a district are left to fund our schools locally, but at least we could put the issue to the voters and let them decide on the amount they wish to tax themselves. Simply, increase local authority and local control.
Melissa Rooker (R)
After enduring 7 budget cuts in the past 3 years, our schools are woefully underfunded. The current amount of aid is no more than what our schools were receiving in the late 1990s, yet education standards (driven by state and federal mandates) have increased, as has the overall cost of living. We need an all-inclusive approach to solving this problem. Part of the solution is certainly to revise the funding formula so we provide districts with more local authority. Recognizing there are great differences between our rural, urban and suburban schools, we should have a funding mechanism that reflects those differences. However, while such changes are being contemplated, we have an obligation to our children, our businesses, and communities to find ways to better fund our schools under the current formula. This most recent legislative session, some of our own JoCo legislative delegation voted against measures that would have granted a 2-step increase to the Local Option Budget (LOB), as well as increase Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) by $75, simply because it was not the exact package proposed by the governor. We ended the session with a $58 per pupil increase and no increase to the LOB – better than nothing, but a long way from where we need to be to maintain the quality of our schools and the demand for an educated workforce.
Tomorrow, we publish the answers to question two:
2.) State fiscal analysts project the tax bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in May could produce deficits reaching $2.5 billion by 2018. What specific government programs or services would you cut to balance the budget?
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