Fewer than a third of Kansans responding to a survey favor a new school funding plan that replaces the current school finance formula with block grants.
About half of poll respondents said they oppose the plan, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback last month, and more than 20 percent said they don’t know whether they support or oppose it.
The results are part of the annual Kansas Speaks survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. The random sample survey of 519 Kansans was conducted between March 23 and April 1 and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
The new school finance plan replaces the state’s 23-year-old school funding formula, which allocated money based on districts’ specific needs, with block grants for two years, while state lawmakers attempt to create a new funding formula.
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It reduces funding that districts had expected for the current school year. But supporters said greater flexibility would ensure that no districts have to make cuts.
The question posed to those taking the Kansas Speaks survey was: “Do you favor or oppose the new school funding bill?”
Almost half – 49 percent – said they opposed the bill. Thirty percent said they supported it. And 22 percent – more than one in five – responded “don’t know.”
“The high proportion of ‘Don’t Know’ responses suggests that the issue is very complex,” the survey authors wrote.
The survey also asked whether the courts or the state Legislature should determine the “suitable” level of state funding for public education, as mandated in the state Constitution.
A slight majority of those surveyed – 51 percent – said the Legislature should have that authority. Only 35 percent said the courts should have the final say.
Some respondents – 14 percent – offered “more non-traditional suggestions for making this decision,” the survey report said, but those responses were not specified.
The Wichita school district is one plaintiff in Gannon v. State of Kansas, which claims that current levels of school funding violate the state Constitution and deprive students of a suitable education.
Late last year, a three-judge panel ruled that the state is not spending enough on schools. Some lawmakers have proposed constitutional amendments to strip the court of any authority over school funding or to change the way justices are selected.
About two-thirds of respondents opposed removing protections for teachers or school administrators who are sued by parents for using classroom materials deemed harmful to children.
A proposal that would have made it easier to prosecute teachers won approval in the Kansas Senate earlier this year but failed to advance in the House. Students at Wichita East High and some other area schools led a telephone and e-mail campaign against the measure.
The Kansas Speaks survey also asked Kansans whether they were "aware of" cases where teachers presented lewd, obscene or otherwise unsuitable materials in the classroom. Only 5 percent of respondents said they were aware of such cases.