TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation Wednesday scrapping the state’s decades-old school funding formula and replacing it with a block-grant system.
The block-grant system will sunset in two years. The measure is intended only as a temporary system while a new, permanent formula is crafted. Supporters of the bill say the legislation will provide districts more than $300 million in additional funding, but opponents charge poor districts will receive less.
The Legislature passed the legislation, Senate Bill 7, earlier this month. Brownback called the block-grant system a “critical first step” toward crafting a new formula.
“Together we will build on our past success and not jeopardize funding because of flaws in the previous formula,” Brownback said in a statement.
The governor, a Republican, did not have a public signing ceremony, but announced he had signed the bill Wednesday.
Brownback’s office posted a photo to social media showing Brownback signing the bill surrounded by legislative leaders.
The Legislature passed the bill just 12 days after it was rolled out. Although Brownback had called for a block grant system in January, a legislative proposal was not made public until March.
Bill supporters say the bill increases overall education spending. In his statement, Brownback said during the 2014-15 school year, funding was approximately $3.98 billion but for school year 2015-16 it will increase to $4.09 billion and increase again to $4.16 billion in school year 2016-17.
“For the first time ever, we will spend more than $4 billion to support K12 education in Kansas. At the same time we are providing those closest to the classroom — teachers and parents — direct control over the future of education by getting money into the classroom to immediately benefit Kansas students,” Brownback said.
School districts, Democrats and some moderate Republicans fought against the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Brownback had previously linked high levels of education spending to the state’s budget situation but touted the record amount of spending.
During his State of the State address in January, Brownback said: “A majority of the projected shortfall we face is due to increases in K-12 spending since Fiscal Year 2014. I want to repeat that. A majority of the projected shortfall we face is due to increases in K-12 spending.”
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said the focus of legislators would not turn to shaping a new formula that emphasized flexibility in K-12 budgeting and the degree of success experienced by graduates.
“It’s the way we’ve got to go,” Bruce said. “Attention is now on finding where we go next.”
“They blame everything on the current formula when I’ve said many times before the current formula has worked well. It’s the underfunding of the formula that’s the real problem,” Hensley said.
Some school districts have said they will lose several hundred thousand dollars under the new law. Topeka USD 501 is expected to lose about $2.07 million, Auburn-Washburn about $450,000, Seaman about $330,000, Silver Lake around $18,000 and Shawnee Heights around $460,000.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.