County schools do poorly in state formula
De Soto schools aren't receiving as much state and federal aid as many Kansas schools, according to financial graphs released last week by the Kansas Board of Education.
In 2004-2005, Kansas schools spent an average of $5,346 state aid per pupil and received an average of $902 in federal aid per pupil. De Soto received an average of $4,622 in state aid and $324 federal dollars.
According to the statistics, De Soto spent a total average of $10,037 per pupil, which is higher than the state average of $9,707 -- which means De Soto had to use local revenue dollars to make up for lack of state and federal funding.
De Soto district communications director Alvie Cater said De Soto is third in Johnson County in terms of spending per pupil, behind Blue Valley and Olathe. Olathe spends $10,100; Blue Valley spends $10,451; Shawnee Mission spends $8,938; Gardner-Edgerton spends $9,985 and Spring Hill spends $9,420.
"If you look at the lineup of districts with the most spending, we're the three Johnson County districts with the most growth, so it makes sense we're spending more per pupil and have newer facilities," Cater said.
He said the averages spent also include money used to pay off bond debt and interest, which don't go directly toward general operation expenses.
"It's based on FTE (full-time equivalency), so if you look at all the children we provide services for, it doesn't include early childhood," Cater said.
State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said the state school finance formula will have to change before Johnson County schools can get revenues equal to other districts in Kansas.
"Last year, all six Johnson County school districts were in the bottom 15 percent of school districts in Kansas in terms of operating expenses per pupil," said Vratil, who also serves as USD 232's attorney.
He said Johnson County is continuing to export tax dollars to other school districts in the state.
"We get back $1 for every $3 we send to Topeka," he said.
Vratil said with the Kansas Legislature beginning its session next month, he was hoping for an agreement with other legislators to change the way Kansas schools are funded.
"We keep pounding the issue that Johnson County is subsidizing the rest of the state," he said. "We're willing to do that to some extent, but there is a limit. We need to be treated fairly."
Although a Kansas Supreme Court ruling required legislators to change school funding, Vratil said there weren't specific amounts. Although Vratil said many proposals in the Legislature would give schools adequate funding, he said politicians couldn't agree.
The state caps the amount of local revenue -- or local option budget -- that a school district can receive at 27 percent of its general fund revenue. De Soto has already reached that limit, Cater said.
"We have to do that because of our growth," he said. "The local option budget was originally created as a way for schools to supplement education. What has happened is because the state has not kept up with funding per pupil, it's no longer an option. It's a necessity."
Tim Rooney, director of finance for the Shawnee Mission district, says that although the district is losing enrollment, they also favor more local option budget control.
"It's not that we intentionally chose to spend less," he said. "We have programs we'd love to spend more money on. We just can't."
Rooney said most of the smaller districts in Kansas often get more funding per pupil because they have low enrollment or more students with special needs. He said the reason for giving extra funding to rural districts is to provide for costs that don't change with the number of students, such as building maintenance or transportation.
"We want students across the state to have fair and equal funding," he said. "But when that's reached if local communities want to provide additional resources, they should be able to."