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Candidates on the issues: Kansas’s school finance formula
We conclude our series of answers to our 2012 general electioncandidate questionnaire today with the topic that topped the list of issues important to our readers: the state’s school funding formula:
Shawnee Mission Superintendent Gene Johnson recently said he felt the coming legislative session might offer the best chance to allow local districts to gain more control in how much money they can raise for schools. Do you think the “local option budget” portion of the school-funding formula should be changed? How much should local districts be able to raise?
Senate District 7:
Kyle Russell (D):
Increased local option budgets are part of the solution, but are not the entire solution. I support lifting the local option budget as long as equalization under the current system is maintained. However, it all starts with funding the schools on a statewide basis. That is the obligation of our legislature and governor under the State constitution and statutes, along with various court orders. Although I support lifting the cap on the LOB, that will take cooperation from legislators outside Johnson County. The last two years have shown that when we focus our Johnson County legislative agenda exclusively on lifting the LOB cap and do not advocate strongly for increasing base state aid, neither one happens and our schools continue to suffer the consequences.
It is interesting that some of the most vocal proponents of increased local authority also refuse to declare their support for a local tax increase if local authority is granted. If we do obtain more local authority and if a reasonable tax increase is on the ballot in the Shawnee Mission District, I will support and campaign for it. The bottom line is that the Kansas Legislature’s number one responsibility is to provide adequate funding for public education statewide. Every year that we fail to fund the schools adequately, we are violating the Kansas Constitution, state statutes and court orders. As your state senator, I will not stand for any more cuts to education and will instead fight to restore every penny of funding that has been cut since 2008. Northeast Johnson County needs a champion for public education in the Kansas Senate, and that is why I am asking for your vote on November 6th or before.
Kay Wolf (R):
The local option budget cap should be lifted. The current school finance formula passed in 1992, has not been favorable for the SMSD. For years many Johnson County legislators have tried unsuccessfully to allow residents to additionally fund their schools. Serving seven years in the legislature, I realize the belief of many outside of JOCO, is any formula change hurts their schools and allows ours to flourish even more. To date, the votes have never been there.
I am not optimistic this session will offer a much better chance. I do believe the current administration is supportive of a change. Partially, because K-12 state spending is approximately 56 percent of the state budget and revenue deficits are projected beginning in 2014. There are discussions again of introducing a new formula allowing for lifting of the LOB ceiling while providing equalization.
A more likely prospect to obtain additional money is the “Local Activities Budget”. In reality it is an extension of the LOB. Monies could be spent on preparation for and involvement in athletic competitions, club activities, contests, etc. The specifics are:
1) It must have a public vote.
2) The district must be at the maximum LOB of 30 percent.
3) The district is below the state wide average per pupil.
4) The LAB cannot exceed 2 percent of the statewide average per pupil.
5) The resolution expires in 5 years requiring a new vote to extend.
6) If passed the SMSD receives approximately $4.6 million annually in extra dollars based on the 2 percent cap. Legislation was introduced last year; passed the House, but did not have a hearing in the Senate. It will be introduced again.
Obviously, more state funding is the preferable method but is unlikely. However, a LAB would allow monies currently spent on these type activities to be used elsewhere.
House District 19:
Stephanie Clayton (R):
The wish for Local Authority is also something I have heard a great deal about from voters. I think that Shawnee Mission voters want to have the option to raise as much money for their schools as they want. I support a two-pronged approach to education funding- first, we need to fully fund the formula that we do have, and once that problem is solved, we need to give Shawnee Mission parents and patrons the opportunity to fund our schools beyond what is allocated to us by the state. The Shawnee Mission District has high standards, and we should have the right to achieve those standards. I think the level of the LOB cap should be raised, but such negotiations should be state-wide, and should probably include equalization.
Zach Luea (D):
I applaud Dr. Johnson’s optimism on the matter and hope that he is correct. While a number of issues exist with a LOB increase (mill levy/property tax increase, gap between ‘rich and poor’ school districts, failure to fully fund BSAPP), I would support legislation that would allow an increase beyond 31 percent with voter approval. If elected, I am willing to work with all interested parties to find an equitable solution to the school-funding issue.
House District 21:
Amy Bell (D):
We as citizens should have the right to tax ourselves to support the things we care about most. The cap on the local option budget has prevented us from building our community in the manner we see fit. Superintendent Johnson is probably correct in his assessment that the coming session might give our community greater freedom with the local option budget, but I believe that it will be offered as a replacement of base state aid. The local option budget needs to serve as an extra boost to our schools, not a replacement for the constitutionally mandated state funding. Next session will not be the victory that the Shawnee Mission School District has hoped for without also restoring the funding that they have already lost. My first priority in school funding is to make sure that we secure the revenue to fund our schools through a balanced tax approach that prevents the burden from lying solely on property taxes.
Barbara Bollier (R):
First and foremost, I believe that our schools should be adequately funded from our state general fund before resorting to the local option budget for money. That being said, the local option budget cap should not be limited. I support a quality education for all students in Kansas; however, I do not support a socialistic approach that limits schools to the lowest common denominator. Our current funding formula is highly political with winners and losers and is failing us here in Johnson County. If my constituents want to increase the taxes they pay for education funding, it should be their right.
House District 25:
Megan England (D):
When Governor Brownback and the current republican legislature were sworn into office two years ago, Dr. Johnson and others undoubtedly thought that they had an excellent chance to give more funding control to local districts. Unfortunately, instead we watched as too many who campaigned on education voted against bills and amendments that supported increased funding and the ability of our district to increase our local option budget. It’s foolishly optimistic to think conservative leaders will advance a pro-public education agenda this session after wiping out moderate republicans who ran on funding education in the primary.
We may have a chance to support public schools if we send the right people to Topeka. Unfortunately, the current administration doesn’t want to include “moderate” republicans. If elected, their voices will be marginalized and they will be pressured by the Governor to vote down party lines. Case in point, it is widely known that one particular pro-education house candidate switched political parties before filing for office in an effort to win the republican vote. That move will not impress the conservative republican leadership who will decide which republican lawmakers are appointed to which committees. As demonstrated with the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force, knowledge of and familiarity with a topic are not necessarily qualifiers for committee appointments.
On the other hand, when elected, I will be appointed to committees by the Minority Leader, Paul Davis. I am not at odds with my party leadership and will not be relegated to committees that most Kansans have never heard of. If appointed to the Education Committee, I would advocate for an increase to the “local option budget” should the new legislature fail to adequately fund public schools to court mandated levels.
Melissa Rooker (R):
I have long been a supporter of changing the LOB portion of the school finance formula. In fact, I am a champion of changing the formula altogether and will work to pursue that option. The question of how much districts should be allowed to raise locally is tied to how the state goes about meeting its constitutional obligation to fund our schools. The LOB is not meant to replace funding from the state, rather it should be used to enhance state funding. Because of the drastic cuts to public education, the Shawnee Mission schools have been struggling to maintain the status quo rather than being able to afford improvements like all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and innovative new programs to help our students meet the challenges of the 21st century; this needs to change.
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