The majority of Kansas school districts would lose money under a bill crafted by the Senate’s budget chairman as a way to address inequities in school finance.
Most around Wichita, however, would see an increase in funding.
Sen. Ty Masterson’s bill is one of two responses so far to the Kansas Supreme Court’s order that lawmakers fix inequities between school districts or risk a statewide shutdown of schools in July. It shifts money already allocated for K-12 education to poorer districts.
Under the bill, 189 school districts would see overall funding drop, while 97 districts would gain state dollars, according to a preliminary analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Research Department.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
A bill introduced in the House on Friday would boost school funding by $39 million for next school year. Under that approach, 162 districts – including Wichita area districts – would see overall funding increase. Another 45 districts would have flat funding, and 79 districts would lose some state aid.
That plan, crafted by Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, taps the state’s $17 million emergency need fund to cover part of new spending.
The Wichita school district, one of the plaintiffs in the school funding lawsuit against the state, is projected to gain significantly under both bills.
It would receive $10.1 million more for next school year under the House plan, with more than half of that going to property tax relief. It would get about $6.2 million more under Masterson’s plan.
Both bills would restore the state’s old equalization formula, which provides extra dollars to property-poor districts that can’t raise as much in local property tax revenue as property-rich districts.
“The difference is, mine does not add additional funds,” said Masterson, R-Andover. “It is strictly a reshuffle.” The plan would mean nearly $168,000 less for the Andover school district for next school year.
‘I don’t think the Supreme Court will approve that’
Some lawmakers want to pursue a plan that does not add money in the face of the state’s recent revenue woes, but attorneys for the plaintiff school districts say that will fail to satisfy the court’s ruling.
“In essence, it’s taking it out of your left pocket to put it in your right pocket,” said John Robb, an attorney for Schools for Fair Funding. “And I don’t think the Supreme Court will approve that.”
Robb said the court instructed lawmakers not to affect the adequacy of school funding when making funding more equitable.
Ryckman said he has reread the court’s opinion and thinks his bill, HB 2731, satisfies the court’s demand for equity by restoring the old equalization formula and providing more money.
“This version mirrors to me what the court’s requested,” he said. He said he hopes work on the bill can begin next week.
Ryckman’s plan provides the additional money only for next year. Some Democratic lawmakers say the state needs to allot more money for the current school year as well.
Robb said the plaintiffs have sought clarification on this point. He believes that the order was retroactive, but said the wording was unclear.
Johnson County districts would lose
Several districts in affluent Johnson County lose state aid under either plan. Among them is Ryckman’s home district, which would get about $760,000 less under his bill and nearly $2.3 million less under Masterson’s plan.
“The schools that my kids go to and the district that I live in would lose equalization money,” Ryckman said. “But I’m also looking at the needs of the entire state, and when the courts say they’re going to close schools unless you equalize, which is basically taking property tax money from one district to the next … we’re going to have a plan that goes closely to what we think the Department of Education and the courts would answer in terms of equity.”
Johnson County has the largest delegation in the Legislature. Passing either plan could prove difficult.
“This would take from my school district — let us raise our taxes — so Wichita can lower their taxes. That makes no sense,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican from Stilwell. “How is that equity?”
Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, has a plan she said would satisfy the court’s equity decision and hold wealthier districts harmless for a year.
“I’m frustrated we continue to approach ‘equity’ as an either-or proposition,” either defy the court order or comply with it at the expense of wealthier districts, she said.
Contributing: Ed Eveld of the Kansas City Star
How area districts would be affected
Most Wichita area districts gain money under the plans offered by Rep. Ron Ryckman and Sen. Ty Masterson. Andover and Haysville would lose money under Masterson’s plan.