Basehor, Bonner districts agree: Block grant funding unfair
David Howard said that there are so many moving parts to education funding in Kansas right now that it’s hard to make any plans to take action, even if it is almost sure that school districts will have to make budget cuts.
“My assistant just asked, have we talked to the board about cuts?” said Howard, Basehor-Linwood USD 458 superintendent. “If I knew what the target was, we would, but it’s still a moving target, so we really have no idea what our goal is yet.”
As of right now, it seems that the “block grant” school funding bill passed by the legislature to fund education for the next two years will cause a reduction of $331,417 in state funding for USD 458, between Local Option Budget state aid reduced $168,988 and capital outlay reduced $142,049.
The Chieftain was unable to obtain updated numbers from Bonner Springs-Edwardsville USD 204, but at the district’s March 9 school board meeting, district staff said if block grant funding had been in effect this year, the district would have received $92,061 less than it did in 2013-14, because the funding wouldn’t have reflected the growth in the number of students in the district.
Eric Hansen, USD 204 business and human resources director, told the board that any time there is a change, there will be winners and losers, but he thinks the block grant funding would show favoritism toward wealthy districts.
“I think we’re all in this together, but I really think part of this is almost pitting districts against each other,” he said.
That is because, as Hansen mentioned, block grants don’t account for enrollment increases, and USD 458 and USD 204 both saw student growth.
“If we increase 50 kids next year, there’s no additional money there for that,” Howard said. “They said there is, but then you have to go to a state finance council, and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get any additional money.
“We’re going to have to fight for additional money, and yet a district that loses 50 kids will get the same amount of money. It’s inherently wrong in my mind.”
Dan Brungardt, USD 204 superintendent, made similar comments, saying the Bonner Springs district has grown by an average 25 students in recent years, adding 70 students this year.
Howard added that the new funding plan likely would decrease the districts’ ability to accept students from out of district, even if they are children of teachers or of district resident grandparents who are childcare providers.
Numbers provided by the Kansas State Department of Education do show some positives for USD 458, with funding for students at the district’s virtual school, but even those numbers are misleading, Howard said, because they are only estimates.
Those numbers may change because the state will no longer fund those over the age of 19 and will only give the district funding based on each completed class.
“Second, they are assuming we would have the same number of students enrolled the following year,” Howard said. “Our enrollment goes up or down every year. If it goes down, our funding will definitely decrease.”
State numbers also show a $40,031 increase in general state aid for USD 458 in 2015-16, but that “doesn’t come close to offsetting the increase we expect in enrollment,” Howard said.
USD 204 officials remarked at the March 9 board meeting that reducing education funding seemed to be in opposition of the governor’s goal of building the economy and bringing more people to Kansas by reducing taxes.
“That’s kind of the odd part — you’re going to grow the economy and bring people to the state of Kansas, but you’re going to fund schools at the same level, and with more people, you’re spending less per pupil,” Brungardt said.