K-12 Funding Still to Be Finalized in 2023
By Daniel Klaassen & Karuva Kaseke | April 20, 2023
Looking down on Kansas from above, one sees a patchwork of colors. Fields of green and gold with towns and cities interspersed, stitched together by straight roads and meandering creeks, rivers, and streams. Inside the Statehouse in Topeka, a different sort of patchwork is present. Large numbers of bills are patched together into bundles that can be pushed through at a much faster rate all under the guise of efficiency and good governance. The education budget is often caught up in this process, and 2023 is no different. With parts of seven different bills tied to school funding, House Sub. for SB 113 is a complex bill that can be viewed through two lenses – the K-12 budget and non-funding policies affecting schools.
The bill has a total cost of $6.4 billion, with $4.2 billion coming from the State General Fund (SGF), which is lower than the Governor’s recommended total of $6.7 billion, with $4.7 billion from SGF. Most notably, the current proposal omits $592.7 million from SGF for special education (this provision was tied to using public dollars for non-public schools via the now-failed House Sub. for SB 83), as well as the proposed annual enhancement of $72.4 million from SGF, which was part of the Governor’s five-year plan to get Special Education Services State Aid to 92.0 percent by FY 2028.
The bill also changes the formula to calculate BASE aid, removing the ongoing increase that was part of the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling. Rather than applying an inflation adjustment to the prior year’s amount (which would result in an increase to $5,103 in FY 2024 and $5,421 in FY 2025), the Legislature will apply the inflation adjustment to a stagnant $4,846 (current FY 2023 BASE aid) unless and until lawmakers decide to increase it.
Considering that the state budget is the most stable it has been in several years, with historic tax revenues and surpluses in the past two years, there is enough funding to strengthen state support for Kansas public education, particularly special education. However, as a balanced budget is constitutionally required, proposed tax bills like House Sub. for SB 169, which has a cost of more than $1 billion in the next three years to mostly benefit higher-income households, will likely require costs to be cut elsewhere in the future. The November Consensus Revenue Estimate estimated a $2.3 billion surplus for the end of FY 2023, which the state is on track to meet. Lawmakers have the power to invest some of those gains in areas that need them most, such as our schools, public health, and infrastructure.
Funding-related Policy, including Special Education
Special education funding has been a hot topic for lawmakers and advocates this session. With an increased focus on the state not meeting its statutory obligation to fund 92 percent of excess costs, the three education committees spent numerous meetings hearing from experts on the funding formula and where things currently stand. Given this increased attention, a solution was proposed by Governor Kelly for a five-year phase-in of additional special education funding to reach the required level.
However, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee removed all special education funding from the FY 2024 education budget and added it to the controversial, thinly-veiled voucher bill, which failed in the Senate. With that failure, there is currently no funding in any active bill for special education for the upcoming fiscal year. Baseline funding for FY 2025 remains in SB 113, but the recommended increase has been removed and instead replaced with a proposal creating a task force to “study and make recommendations for changes in the existing state funding formula for special education and related services.”
As school districts calculate their funding, there are many different weightings used based on student need. One of the most closely inspected this year was the High-Density At-Risk weighting. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are considered at-risk for low academic achievement; districts that have a high percentage of these students receive an additional weighting to fund intervention services with the goal of increasing student performance on assessments. This provision is scheduled to expire after the 2023-2024 school year. House Sub. for SB 113 works to remove that sunset, a worthwhile change as it provides funding certainty for school districts.
Other funding-related policies now in the bill include:
- Maintaining the statewide 20 mill property tax
- Cost-of-living weighting increases for districts that are above the state median home price
- Provisions allowing school districts to calculate funding based on current year enrollment
- A freeze to the base state aid that could jeopardize the settlement to the Gannon school finance litigation
General Policies Impacting Schools and School Procedure
Unfortunately, the education committees have tied several controversial policies to K-12 funding rather than having them considered on their own merit.
Open Enrollment Fixes and Parent Portal
In the 2022 session, lawmakers passed provisions that would require school districts to hold open enrollment periods. This allows any Kansas student who wants to transfer to a school outside of their district boundaries to do so, assuming there is enough space in the attendance roster. The law will go into effect for school year 2024-2025 so that any issues can be ironed out before implementation.
This year, lawmakers heard testimony that the open enrollment policy could prevent staff from bringing their own children into a different district, which many schools use as a strategy to recruit teachers and other school staff. HB 2271 fixed this problem and was amended to provide considerations for unhoused students as well — both good revisions.
Unfortunately, pieces of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” from 2022 were also amended into HB 2271, including the provision requiring districts to create a “parent portal” with all district-adopted curriculum. This information is now readily available for parents on district websites or upon request, making the proposed requirement unnecessary. District staff need to be focused on supporting classroom instruction, not duplicative administrative tasks.
All of these contents were then added to the patchwork of SB 113.
Non-public School Students Participating in Public School Activities
Provisions from HB 2030 would allow non-public school students, such as those attending private or home school settings, to participate in events sponsored by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) as part of public school teams. While private schools are good options for some students, the choice also comes with disadvantages, such as not all activities being available. Students attending rural public schools often face the same struggles.
The provision, now also housed in House Sub. for SB 113, gives non-public students the advantage of a private education and using public school property and funding to participate in public school activities. Coupling this policy with school finance is simply a strategy to move forward legislation that likely would not be viable on its own.
Other policies added to this bill include:
- Creating a position within the Kansas Department of Education to perform school safety and security audits and inspections
- Allows school board members to be paid from district funds, which would take money away from other priorities
- Data requirements on outdated curriculum
- Legislative oversight on demolition of old school buildings
- Increases to the Low-Income Scholarship Tax Credit program
- Student eligibility threshold increased to 250% FPL from 185% FPL
- Tax credit increased to 75% from 70% of contribution
Looking down at House Sub. for SB 113, the view doesn’t resemble the patchwork of Kansas fields and cities. Instead, it resembles a hastily made quilt with clashing colors, missing blocks, and torn stitching. Legislation is not meant to be pieced together without public input, and every policy should be vetted by lawmakers in both chambers with informed public comment. House Sub. for SB 113, the bill that provides funding for Kansas public schools, does not provide this opportunity. Kansas students deserve a clean funding bill.< Back to the news list