Archive for Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Legislator less than pleased about recent special session

July 13, 2005

Kansas Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, is not a happy camper.

"I'm certainly not thrilled with the way it ended up," Wilk said of the school funding dilemma that pitched legislators into an extra session and left them scrambling to put more money into financing schools.

"I'm happy that we're done with the special session and that the threat of closing the schools is over, but as far as actual work that we've done out there, I'm less than enthralled -- but it got the job done."

In January, the Kansas Supreme Court said the Legislature had failed to adequately fund public education. The court gave lawmakers until April 12 to increase school funding. At that time the state was distributing about $2.7 billion in state aid to public schools.

During this year's regular legislative session, legislators approved an additional $142 million to fund schools. But that wasn't enough to satisfy the court, which ordered Legislators back into a special session to come up with another $143 million. The Legislators did so, and on Friday, the court approved the Legislators' plan. This plan increases school funding by another $148.4 million.

Wilk said the supreme court has retained jurisdiction of the case.

"So the court will continue to watch what we do and undoubtedly they're going to look at the new legislative post audit report, an input/output study cost analysis, if you will, of K-12 education," Wilk said. "That's supposed to be done before the start of the next legislative session."

The legislative post audit will give a second cost estimate as to what it should take to operate public schools in Kansas, Wilk said. The other report, the Augenblick and Myers, which was commissioned by the Legislature in 2001, determined the state was about $853 million short in funding schools.

"The Augenblick and Byers, in my estimation, has been totally misused," Wilk said. "The legislature commissions all kinds of studies every year, it's never intended that we legislate to those. They are a resource document, they are not a mandatory legislative dictate that with the Augenblick and Myers it's turned into."

That's why the Legislature plans to do a new study.

"The purpose is to get a second look and a look that many legislators will be more comfortable with," Wilk said.

Wilk said he's not sure exactly how school districts will spend the additional funds they'll be receiving.

"That was one of the things that was puzzling me," Wilk said. "Because I knew the school districts were ready to start the year based on the $143 million increase that we gave them, and then the court doubled that. But there's no doubt they can use the money -- I don't question that."

Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson has an idea of where, at least locally, additional school funds will go.

Erickson told board members at Monday night's school board meeting he's pleased with the legislator's revised school funding plan.

Here's how Erickson said he'd like to put some of the increased funding to use:

  • Continue to lower the class sizes and the student/teacher ratios, particularly at the elementary school, which has more than 800 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
  • Devote effort toward the at-risk students by adding paraeducators and remedial programs during the summer months, with the possibility of adding remedial programs during the school year.
  • Improve the flexibility in the budget and year-end transfers to capitol outlay funds. "This year, with this new funding it will be very important to build that capitol outlay balance," Erickson told board members.
  • Compensate for the decrease of $20,000 in federal Title 1 fund revenues this year. "It's my hope that some of that new funding will make up for that reduced federal funding," Erickson said.

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