Kansas Political Buzz All About School Finance

Last Updated: October 27, 2010

This article appeared in the October 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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In the Sunflower State, school funding continues to dominate the political landscape as policy makers, school leaders and political candidates address the issue.

The gubernatorial candidates continue to put school finance at the forefront of their educational platforms. Republican candidate Sam Brownback has expressed interest in changing Kansas’ state funding law to something more similar to what was in place prior to the last round of school funding litigation. He has also said he wants local districts to have greater authority to raise taxes, but has not released more specific information.

Some of Brownback's opponents have tried to link him to a proposal put forth by Republican House Speaker pro tem Arlen Siegfreid that would cap state support, introduce more competitive grants into the funding system, and leave more responsibility to local districts for school funding.

Siegfreid made this recommendation to the 2010 Special Committee on Education, which is made up of members from both houses of the Kansas Legislature. Republicans, including Brownback, have since tried to distance themselves from that proposal.

Democrat Tom Holland supports the current system but has also said he supports local districts’ ability to raise more money. That ability is currently limited in Kansas.

In late summer, the Kansas Association of School Boards convened a group of superintendents and school board members to study the school funding system and look for ways to improve it. Their work was furthered by the revival of school funding litigation plans and initial legislative responses. The group includes both rural and non-rural district superintendents and board member. The rural leaders have pointed out that the current formula is helpful to rural schools, and does not need to be discarded. The group hopes its “on-the ground” insights will be valuable to legislators.

Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of school districts, plans to file a new school finance lawsuit in the coming weeks. (RSFN has followed the litigation plans closely over the past year; see coverage beginning in October 2009).

Much of the recent activity and commentary is focused on avoiding this suit, but lawyers for the plaintiff group have called the proposed finance system changes "rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship."

Kansas’ earlier school finance decision was notable for the relative speed with which the legislature responded to the court’s ruling by commissioning cost studies and implementing needed funding increases. Since then, however, severe shortfalls in school funding have undermined the ruling’s effect.

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Read more from the October 2010 Rural Policy Matters.