Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2006

New report earns praise from local school chief

January 11, 2006

A report issued Monday spells good news for public schools in Kansas.

A Legislative Post Audit report, commissioned by Kansas lawmakers last year, recommends that the state increase school funding by at least another $316 million. In 2005, Kansas lawmakers approved a public school funding increase of $289.5 million for the 2005-2006 school year.

Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson was pleased with Monday's news.

¢ In 1999, two school districts filed suit in Shawnee County District Court alleging the state was inadequately funding public education as required by the state constitution.

¢ In 2001, the Legislature commissioned an educational cost study by the Denver consulting firm Augenblick and Myers. The report, released in 2002, recommended the state increase public school funding by $853 million. But legislators did not increase school funding as recommended.

¢ In January 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had failed to adequately fund public education and told lawmakers to find a solution, giving them an April 12 deadline.

¢ During the 2005 regular session, lawmakers authorized $141.1 million in additional funding for public schools for the 2005-2006 school year. Lawmakers voted to require the Legislative Post Audit Division to conduct an analysis to determine the cost of providing a kindergarten through 12th grade education in public schools.

¢ In June 2005, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to increase public school funding by $141.1 million by July 1. Legislators met in special session and approved another $148.4 million for a total increase in public school funding of $289.5 million.

"I think, timing-wise as we move into and transition into the new buildings, that additional state aid will come in handy to pick up additional costs," Erickson said. "The timing on this new aid will certainly be helpful to our program here."

The Tonganoxie school district is in the midst of a $25.3 million construction project. The work includes a new middle school for fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the district's 80-acre site near Pleasant and Washington streets. It also entails conversion of the current junior high and high school campus into a four-year high school campus, and remodeling to convert the existing grade school into a kindergarten through fourth-grade facility. Much of the work is expected to be complete by December.

The post audit report details two scenarios of school funding -- input-based, in which classroom education meets state education requirements, and outcome-based, which takes into account the fact that schools are working toward achieving goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The input-based scenario calculates funding according to classroom size. Under the scenario:

  • If classrooms are limited to 20 students, school funding should increase by $624 million.
  • If classrooms are limited to 18 to 23 students, school funding should increase by $520 million.
  • If classrooms are limited to 25 students, school funding should increase by $316 million.

According to the post-audit report, the outcome-based scenario calls for a school funding increase of $399 million. It is based on the assumption that it will cost more for schools to meet testing standards in the 2006-2007 school year.

Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said Monday, that though he hadn't yet had time to study the 300-page report, he was pleased with the news of funding increases.

"I think it offers us a great resource to move forward and put together a long-term plan for education funding," Wilk said. "We have a 10-year highway plan, we've got a long-term economic plan -- there's no reason why we can't have a formal education plan."

Wilk said he could not have predicted the study's findings.

"I didn't know what to expect because we've had so many different numbers that we floated around," Wilk said.

And he said he was pleased the report offers funding options, based on class sizes.

"As you drop that (number of students in a classroom) down, the number goes up," Wilk said. "I'm glad we've got some different options to look at. That frames up for us what some of those costs are."

But will Kansas public schools receive an additional $300-plus million in funding?

"Absolutely they will," Wilk said. "Now, under what time frame that will happen is the bigger question. Will that happen in one year? I'm uncertain of that. There will be an increase in education funding this year. I don't know what that amount will be, but we're going to take this report seriously and roll up our sleeves."

Wilk said increases in funding would come from the state's general fund.

"We've had a reasonable economic recovery here," Wilk said. "Revenues have gotten better."

And, as to where those revenues actually come from, Wilk explained:

"The state's general fund is primarily made up of state income tax and state sales tax. I do not see a property tax increase of any sort making its way through the Legislature."

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