Friday, February 9, 2018

Legislature underfunded school finance laws by $867 million since 2009

The Kansas Legislature has underfunded school finance formulas in state law by $867 million since 2009, according to data prepared by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

This shortfall in funding is not related to school finance cost studies. Rather, it is a comparison between what the Legislature has adopted for school funding in state law by legislative enacted, and what has actually been appropriated and provided to school districts.

Nearly 40 percent of the shortfall has been in special education state aid, which is supposed to cover services to students with disabilities required by state and federal law.
Although the Legislature can ignore state law and prorate (reduce) funding below statutory levels, when it does so districts may have to reduce services, shift funding from other areas, or raise local taxes to make up for the shortfall.

Here the major programs that have been funded at less than state law since 2009 include:

Special Education State Aid. Although state law says special education aid should cover 92 percent of the “excess costs” of special education programs, actual funding has been below that level every year since 2011, for a total shortfall of $334 million.

Impact: schools must shift funding from regular education programs to fund services to disabled and gifted students as required by state and federal laws, and makes it more difficult provide services requested by parents.

Local Option Budget State Aid. From 2009 to 2014, the Legislature froze LOB state aid, rather than providing equalization to the 82.1 percentage of district wealth, reducing funding by a total of $327 million. The Legislature did not restore full funding until the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the shortfall violated the equity principle of suitable funding by disadvantaging lower wealth districts.

Impact: lower-wealth districts had to raise property taxes to compensation for less state aid.

Capital Outlay State Aid. From 2010 to 2014, the Legislature eliminated state aid for capital outlay funding, which is limited to paying for building construction, remodeling, equipment and other building costs. Districts lost a total of $110.3 million. Like LOB aid, the Legislature restored funding after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled capital outlay funding is not constitutional without equalizing funding between high and low wealth districts.

Impact: School districts with low taxable property wealth either had less funding for school facilities and equipment or had to shift more money from general operating costs to make up the difference. That is the reason the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that capital outlay must receive equalization aid.

 Professional Development State Aid. State law allows districts to receive state aid up to one-half percent of their general fund or 50 percent of actual professional development expenditures. Actual funding was far below that level in 2009 and was eliminated every year from 2010 to 2017, for a total shortfall of almost $70 million.

Impact: when funding is not provided, districts must reduce programs to help teachers and other staff improve their performance and more effectively support learning. These programs also support efforts combat bullying, identify students with special needs and prevent suicide.

Mentor Teacher Program Funding. State law allows funding to provide stipends to assign an experienced mentor teacher for the first three years of a new teacher’s career. The program was not fully funded from 2009 to 2011, and funding was eliminated from 2012 to 2017, for total underfunding of $18 million.

Impact: schools provide less assistance to beginning teachers or shift funding from other operating areas. Studies show most teachers who leave the profession do so in the first few years, and mentoring helps increase teacher retention.

School Lunch. State law provides that local school districts should be reimbursed six cents for meal. However, since 2009, actual reimbursement has been 4.4 cents, a shortfall of over $7 million.

Impact: Lower state funding means school district must either charge families more for school meals or shift more money from other operating areas to subsidize student meals. Districts already face problems of families failing to pay for meals.

Here are the details:

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