The majority of Kansas school districts in the state would lose money under a bill crafted by the Senate’s budget chairman as a way to address inequities in school finance.
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, which does not yet have a number, 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.
Another bill, introduced in the House on Friday, would give school districts $39 million in additional funding statewide for next school year. Under that approach, 162 districts would see their overall funding increase and 79 districts would lose some state aid. Another 45 districts would have flat funding.
That plan, crafted by Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, taps the state’s $17 million emergency need fund to cover part of the additional funding.
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.”
Masterson’s plan would mean nearly $168,000 less for the Andover school district for next school year.
The Wichita school district would gain significantly under both bills. The House plan would give the Wichita school district $10.1 million in additional state aid for next school year, with more than half of that going to property tax relief.
Masterson’s plan would give Wichita about $6.2 million in additional state aid.
Some lawmakers want to pursue a plan that does not add money if possible 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 finding a solution to address equity.
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 additional funds.
“This version mirrors to me what the court’s requested,” he said.
Ryckman’s plan provides the additional money only for next year. Some Democratic lawmakers say the state needs to provide more money for the current school year as well.
Robb said the plaintiffs have sought clarification on this point. He believes the order was retroactive, but said the wording was unclear.
Several districts in affluent Johnson County lose state aid under either plan, including Ryckman’s home district, which would get approximately $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.