Brownback administration outlines school finance concepts

Education officials on Wednesday expressed concerns that Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to overhaul the school finance system may put more of the financing burden on local districts.

During a meeting held by the Kansas Association of School Boards and United School Administrators of Kansas, Brownback’s policy director, Landon Fulmer, said the administration was looking at a plan to provide a base payment from the state to local school districts, a system of block grants for at-risk students and other needs of individual districts, and allowing local districts to increase taxes. There also may be some changes to the distribution of statewide property tax collected for schools, he said.

Mark Tallman, with the KASB, said, “One of our concerns is the impact this would have on equalization, and there is a concern of shifting funding responsibility back to the local level.”

But Tallman added that some of the concepts that Fulmer addressed were interesting and he noted that Fulmer said the proposals were not set in stone. Brownback is expected to make a recommendation for legislators to consider when the 2012 session starts in January.

Tallman added, “We need to have a clear understanding of what we are trying to correct. Why is this better?”

Schools have been hit with several rounds of state budget cuts since the recession. Earlier this year, Brownback signed a budget that cuts base state aid to schools by $232 per student.

Brownback has said he wants to reform the school finance formula because it has been tied up in litigation in recent years. But those legal challenges have sought to force the Legislature to increase funds for schools and distribute those funds more equitably.

By Scott Rothschild

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