Gov. Laura Kelly’s new budget proposal fully funds the school finance act passed by the Kansas Legislature and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court as constitutional. Education organizations across the state strongly support that plan.
Here is why.
Like all states, Kansas can expect that student learning to be affected negatively by the COVID pandemic.
The investments made possible by the bipartisan school finance act will help Kansas students recover and restore our state position as an educational leader. In the first three years of the school finance plan, beginning in the 2017-18 school year through last year, 2019-20, the Legislature restored nearly $400 million in base state aid per pupil and higher pupil weightings, $62 million in special education state aid and allowed districts to increase their local option budgets by $76 million.
With these dollars and additional resources, districts were able to increase instructional spending on teachers, paraprofessional and classroom aides and other direct teaching costs by $536 million, and restore other student and teacher supports services like counselors, nurses and mental health, libraries, and expand technology by $188 million.
Included in these dollars, $275 million was spent exclusively on high needs students in special education, at-risk and bilingual programs. Other funding supported general education and services to all students.
The new funding allowed districts to hire over 3,600 FTE positions since 2017 (including the current school, 2021). Many of these positions were restored from cuts made from 2009 to 2017. The vast majority (over 80 percent) are for instruction (teachers, special education para and classroom aides) or positions supporting students and teachers, including building administrators (principals and staff). Less than 5 percent were in general administration and central services.
The school finance plan has also helped districts increase teacher salaries more than inflation for the first time in eight years, to keep competitive with other states and other employers.
Over $250 million in KPERS-related funding to school districts since 2017 does not provide any new programs or positions or current salaries. This higher state contribution for the KPERS retirement system is to make up for decades of past underfunding. Gov. Kelly has proposed the Legislature reduce this amount by re-amortizing the KPERS system. This step would reduce the current cost of school funding, but the state would have to pay more into the system in the long run.
From 2009 to 2017, school district general funds, local option budget funds and special education state aid had fallen $577 million behind inflation. The school finance plan has begun to make up that gap, with a goal of reaching 2009 inflation-adjusted levels by 2023.
Not only did Kansas school funding fall behind inflation, but also other states. From 2009 to 2017, Kansas per pupil funding dropped from 97.5 to 89.1 percent of the U.S average and from 9.3 percent above the regional average to 2.0 percent below, making it more difficult for Kansas schools to offer competitive salaries and comparable programs to other states. Over 2,000 school positions were cut, even as enrollment rose, especially among students with special needs.
As result, inflation-adjusted funding declined, important measures of student progress in Kansas, including reading and math tests, ACT scores and graduation rates began to either decline compared to other states or did not improve as fast. Kansas school leaders believe that as funding is restored, over time, those results will improve.
We applaud Gov. Kelly and those legislators who in the past have ensured that the Gannon funding has been implemented. The Governor deserves praise for proposing the continuation of this funding in her budget and we urge the Legislature to approve that.
Kansas Association of School Boards
Kansas School Superintendents Association
Kansas National Education Association
Kansas Parents as Teachers Association
Kansas State Board of Education
Kansas State Parent Teacher Association
Schools for Fair Funding
Schools for Quality Education
United School Administrators of Kansas
Game on For Kansas Schools