Historic Education Vote!

The House today (Friday) approved the block grant bill (which I voted in favor of) designed to be a two-year bridge to a new funding formula while giving school districts unprecedented local control and the flexibility needed to put money into classroom and help students succeed.

The bill sunsets the school finance formula that has tied the hands of school administrators and school boards for the last 23 years. The bill cuts the strings and gives local districts freedom and flexibility to put money where they decide it is most needed.

As typical when considering legislation that makes significant and historic change, the bill sparked spirited debate. Members were being flooded with numbers that were contradictory and confusing. But the facts remain. The bill secures the additional $126.2 million the legislature put into schools in April 2014 (HB 2506). It frees up restricted spending categories. And it provides stability in a time when almost every other part of state government is being cut.

Under the bill, school funding will increase beginning in the current fiscal year and further upward for the next two fiscal years. ($3.401 billion in 14-15 school year; $3.506 billion in 15-16 school year; $3.568 billion 16-17 school year). The increase in the current year also includes the additional $126.2 million appropriated by the legislature last year in HB 2506.

The bill restores state aid funding that would have been reduced in the 1.5 percent allotment ordered by the Governor on February 5. The block grant bill combines funding categories in the old formula into one “general state aid” category that is entirely flexible for the needs of the district. The newly combined categories from the old formula include general state aid, supplemental general state aid, capital outlay state aid, virtual school aid, and the amount of employer KPERS obligations. The block grant also unlocks money in the ancillary school facilities tax levy, the cost of living tax levy, and the declining enrollment tax levy.

Districts that have recently increased their Local Option Budget will be allowed to continue at that rate, even if they haven’t yet begun to collect additional money from the increase.

Additionally, districts will remain permitted to impose special local tax levies (ancillary school facilities, cost-of-living, and declining enrollment) if that district would have qualified under prior law.

The bill also establishes an “Extraordinary Needs Fund” to provide a safety net for school districts that come into unforeseen circumstances that require additional funding. The fund will be administered by the State Finance Council.

The legislation is written to reinforce the legislature’s intent from the school finance law passed in April 2014 (HB 2506), and ensures that school districts with the lowest property values receive the highest amount of capital outlay aid from the state. The bill uses a sliding scale that is determined by property values for the disbursement of capital outlay aid (because the lower the property value, the fewer property tax dollars are able to be collected locally).

The bill distributes KPERS money, and it continues to require school districts to put money toward KPERS. It also provides for restored funding to KPERS versus what Governor Brownback cut earlier this year.

The bill was amended to include funding for virtual schools. Another amendment sunsets the block grants in two years to ensure that a new funding formula is put into place.

The block grants replace the broken formula that considered wealthy school districts with high property values impoverished and inadequately addressed accountability in virtual school funding. It was designed so that it even though there are less than 500,000 students actually enrolled, taxpayers pay for more than 800,000 students, yet only 55 cents of each of those dollars actually makes it to the classroom.

The formula was so restrictive that often times school districts have more than enough money to buy a new Suburban, but not enough to give teachers raises.

That’s why the block grants were needed as a new solution to empower local educators, administrators, and school boards to direct money to the classroom for better student outcomes.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 785-296-5593 or randy.powell@house.ks.gov should you have questions or concerns.