Dear , 


This week most of the attention was given to a release of the proposal for block grant funding to school districts in place of funding through the school finance formula.  Kansas ranks fourth in the nation regarding the percentage of the state's budget going to K-12 education (over 50 percent).  However, less than 55 percent of that funding is used in the classroom.  The formula is not only complex, but it also imposes several restraints on school districts with how funds can be used.


The block grant proposal was presented as companion bills introduced in both the Senate and the House, labeled the "Class Act", and will fund K-12 education for the next three years. The proposal is designed to give local and state school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents more stability, predictability and flexibility as a new funding formula is developed.


Before we get into the specifics of the bill, it is important to understand the history of the finance formula and what got us to this point in the first place.  While some maintain we simply need to "fund the formula," the fact is that the formula is not sustainable.  Not only is it convoluted and difficult for each school district, it also does not allow flexibility within school districts and can put certain districts at an advantage or disadvantage based on several "weightings."    

There are weightings that cause the formula to incorporate an inflated number of students instead of the actual number of students for its calculation.  Certain districts receive different weightings for certain requests.  For example, Johnson City (located in western Kansas near the Colorado border) would receive more dollars for transportation for their rural students whereas Johnson County would receive more dollars for at-risk students.  Often in the media you may hear that base state aide per pupil is $3,852, but in reality after each district receives certain monies for weightings and pension fund costs, it is over $14,000 per student.   


While some take the position that the higher figure shouldn't be used because it includes interest payments and capital costs, I disagree.  These costs are certainly part of every education budget and come from taxpayer dollars.  Not including them creates an artificially low number that doesn't tell the truth to the public about what they are spending on education in Kansas.  A new school building is a cost of providing education.  Bond interest payments, if the bond was used to acquire new things to benefit the schools, is a cost of providing education.   


The problem has been that due to the fact the formula is so complex, the legislature never fully deals with the formula in its entirety.  Rather than fundamentally addressing the formula and its shortfalls, legislators tend to look at the bottom line of how new funding affects each district. Therefore, every year it quickly becomes a contentious and parochial fight while the state endures ever-increasing costs, and money is siphoned out of the classroom.


I had advocated for block grant funding for many years, so I was pleased to hear Gov. Brownback announce in his State of the State address that it was time to finally deal with the education funding problem by repealing the formula and replacing it with block grants until a new funding formula could be crafted over time.  This week, leaders in both chambers released the actual proposals in detail.


Here are the details:


The Senate bill, SB 273, the K-12 Block Grant Bill (also referred to as the "CLASS ACT"), would fund K-12 education for the next three years, allocating funds to school districts for FY2014-15 and appropriating more funds each consecutive school year until another more permanent formula is adopted by the Legislature. By FY 2017, SB 273 would allocate over $300 million in new funding.


This would be a record level of funding, even for this year.  For details, click here.


In addition, every school district would have flexibility to spend money on what they deem necessary, except for specific funds - bond and interest, special education, and special retirement contributions.


SB 273 would restore the Governor's allotments announced last month, in addition to removing the funding restraints that currently mandate how some funds must be used.  I believe it's critical for local administrators to have the freedom to decide how significant amounts of funds being sent to their schools are spent.  The debate for a new formula is likely to be quite involved and time is needed (2-3 years) for a discussion to take place - this bill allows us to do that.


The block grant provisions from the general state aid will include:


  • Every Unified School District (USD) will receive all general state aid for SY2014-15
  • Supplemental General State Aid- the USD will be paid for SY2014-15
  • All USD's will receive their Capital Outlay state aid for SY2014-15
  • Virtual School aid will be calculated under the new formula
  • Ancillary school facilities tax levy, cost-of-living tax levy, declining enrollment tax levy in the amounts attributable to tax proceeds will be collected by each school district
  • Obligations the employer pays into KPERS

Additional important provisions in SB 273 are:

  • Creating an extraordinary need fund, starting with $4 million for SY2014-15.  For SY2015-16 and SY2016-17, 4 percent will be added from the state general fund. This will help school districts with any unforeseen hardships during the use of the block grant. The fund will be overseen by the State Finance Council which is governed by majority and minority leaders from each chamber and the governor.
  • Districts can authorize special local tax levies that meet current laws.
  • School districts, through the authorization of a local vote, can adopt a local option budget and levy an amount that does not exceed the limit already set in place by statue.

Early next week, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means will open hearings on the bill. The House bill, HB 2304, is scheduled for hearings in the House Committee on Appropriations next week. 

Moving Forward


I'll continue to keep you updated on the progress of this debate, as well as other items under consideration.  Coming up this week will be a vote on whether to confirm the governor's appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals this week, Katherine Gardner. 


Gardner's background includes working for Senior US District Judge Sam Crow as a law clerk, working as an assistant attorney general and as a research attorney for a state Court of Appeals judge.  Gardner also owned a private law practice for 12 years.  If confirmed, she will fill the vacant seat left by Justice Caleb Stegall who was nominated by Gov. Brownback and confirmed by the Senate last year to the state Supreme Court.


The Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Gardner's nomination on a voice vote. The full Senate will consider her nomination sometime in the upcoming week.


In honor of your liberty,

Mary Pilcher-Cook

Mary Pilcher Cook


Working in honor of your liberty.
Contact me today!