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KASB statement opposing Kansas Senate proposal to reduce school funding

Posted Date: 03/16/2021

KASB statement opposing Kansas Senate proposal to reduce school funding

The Kansas Association of School Boards opposes provisions in a Kansas Senate budget bill that would remove $570 million in state funds for schools over the next two years, with the biggest reduction for school districts with the highest percentages of low-income students. 

Senate Bill 267 is set for debate sometime after 2:30 p.m. today (March 16). The bill would remove $570 million in state funds for schools and replace it with federal funds that are supposed to be used for COVID-19 related expenses, including the effort to help students recover learning loss due to the pandemic. 

According to the Kansas Department of Education, this supplanting of federal dollars for state dollars is probably not allowed under the federal law providing the aid. Even if it were, it would reduce funding to help students, especially those most affected by the COVID pandemic. 

As recommended by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the bill cuts from the Governor’s budget $183.2 million in general state aid and Local Option Budget state aid for next year (Fiscal year 2021-22), and $280.3 million the following year, 2022-23. These are the final two years of base increases under the Gannon school finance plan, which was intended to restore base operating aid to 2009 inflation-adjusted levels over a six-year phase-in. 

The bill also removes $52.8 million in both years for high density at-risk weighting. This weighting factor was “sunset” in state law but was extended by proviso in the Governor’s budget. As amended, SB 267 removes both the proviso and the funding. 

Finally, the bill says the reduced state aid would be replaced by the federal ESSER funding school districts are receiving for COVID-19 relief, and these decisions would be reconsidered by the Ways and Means Committee when the Legislature returns for the final veto session in May. 

KASB opposes those changes for the following reasons: 

The Kansas State Department of Education does not believe federal COVID funds for school districts can be used to replace general state aid and weightings. The funding is supposed to be used for costs specifically tied to the pandemic. 

There is no mechanism in the bill to actually transfer federal COVID funds in the school finance formula to replace reduced state aid. 

Even if this supplanting were allowed, it would reduce the funding available for districts to deal with the extraordinary additional costs of additional learning time and special services to help students recover from issues this year. 

Because high density weighting only goes to districts with above-average percentages of free lunch eligible students, the funding reduction would be greatest for districts with the highest percentages of students in poverty. These include students in districts that many legislators have argued were most harmed by remote learning. 

Because the bill removes the high-density weighting factor proviso, there is no mechanism in the bill to replace high density aid even if permitted by federal requirements. 

In addition, the federal ESSER aid is one-time emergency funding, not on-going support, so the state will need a plan to replace those funds when they expire. If not, school funding will eventually be reduced, even if temporarily supported by federal aid. (This happened after the 2008-09 Great Recession, when school funding was reduced after federal aid ended.) 

For some idea of the impact on each district, here is a link to a spreadsheet showing an estimated increase in general state aid next year (column 6). A similar increase would be expected in 2023. Note the total is less than the $183 million state aid reduction in the bill, because it does not include the cost of an $80 million delay in state aid in the current year, or the reduction in LOB state aid. 

To determine an estimated impact of the cut in high density state aid, the KSDE Legal Max spreadsheet for 2021 shows the estimated high-density enrollment for each district in Column 17 (or AH). Multiplied by the BASE amount of $4,596 provides the current year high density weighting amount for each district.