Lawmakers ask for data from Wichita, other schools seeking more aid

Four top Republican legislators who will help decide whether Kansas school districts receive extra state aid asked superintendents Wednesday to provide information about how their districts have “used efficiencies to improve outcomes in the classroom.”

Thirty-eight districts have filed applications seeking about $15 million in additional aid under an education funding law enacted this year that has drawn strong criticism from many superintendents.

The law set aside $12.3 million to address extraordinary needs during the current school year, leaving the decision of what each district receives to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the top eight leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Brownback and the legislators are scheduled to meet Monday at the Statehouse to review the requests. The letter asks the districts to provide additional information by 5 p.m. on Friday.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter shortly after the state Department of Education distributed it. The letter was signed by House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell; Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, and the chairmen of the Legislature’s two budget committees, Sen. Ty Masterson of Andover, and Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe.

“Specifically, please provide five ways that your school district has increased efficiencies especially those that have led to better outcomes in the classroom over the past three years,” the letter said.

Ryckman said the letter is designed to solicit information about the districts’ practices that can be shared with other districts and lawmakers. He said he believes none of the applicants will have trouble spelling out initiatives.

“I will never apologize for trying to be more efficient with taxpayer dollars,” Ryckman said.

The new law scrapped Kansas’ old per-student formula for distributing more than $3.4 billion in aid. The applicants for additional aid represent more than 13 percent of the state’s 286 districts, and their requests exceed the dollars available by nearly 23 percent.

Republicans who drafted the new funding law say that it provides stable funding and predictability for districts and the state. But critics note that it doesn’t automatically adjust a district’s aid to account for changing conditions, such an increase in student numbers.

The Wichita school district said in its application that it needs $980,000 to help it address an influx of students who are refugees from Burma, Somalia and the Congo region of Africa.

The district had 132 refugees enrolled during last school year, and 95 percent did not speak English when they arrived. The district expects an additional 145 to 150 refugee students to enroll this year; it expects the total number of refugees to be about 220.

Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Eagle