Superintendent has doubts about funding
In a December ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court demanded that the Kansas Legislature provide more funds to its public schools, stating that present funding was unconstitutionally inadequate. The court gave the Legislature until April 12 to find a suitable solution.
But Eudora USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza isn't optimistic that funding will be increased in the near future, even after the Court's deadline to the Legislature.
"History tells us that the Legislature has not been quick to act in regard to school funding," Kobza said. "I think even with this ruling, in this situation there is a concern that it may get bogged down in the system somewhere and be politicized."
Kobza said the Legislature had an opportunity to make a valuable difference but could just as easily shift responsibility to local entities. He said in the past the Legislature put the responsibility of finding the funds to provide education on local school boards. He said if the Legislature failed to come up with a suitable solution by the Court's deadline, the Court would have to step in again.
"Basically it becomes a matter of shifting responsibilities," Kobza said. "There is an opportunity for the Legislature to place responsibility on someone else. If they don't take action by April 12, the Court is going to appear responsible for any increased funding."
The Kansas Legislature was recently presented with figures obtained in a statewide survey conducted by Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis at the request of the Senate Education Committee. The report attempted to show the actual cost of education.
Dennis surveyed 55 of the state's 302 school districts to determine their costs for educating a regular student, an at-risk student and a bilingual student.
The study found that districts spend about $5,100 per regular student, including local dollars. Survey results were less certain for at-risk and bilingual students.
School districts, however, reported needing between $5,258 and $13,219 per student, with a median amount of $6,366 per student.
Eudora was not contacted for the survey, but Kobza said Eudora USD 491 spent about $5,000 per student per year in the 1,220-student district. He said he did not know yet just how much money the district would suggest was needed per student.
"We haven't gone through those specifics yet," he said.
Rep. Anthony Brown said meshing needs of districts statewide would be challenging.
The Eudora Republican said the Department of Education cost study was informative but that basing a funding plan solely on numbers reported by school districts themselves was risky.
"It doesn't seem like a very good way to keep the reins back on state spending," he said. "I'm glad they got their input in, and we can use it as a barometer. But that probably won't be the determining factor on how education gets funded."
Kobza said USD 491 School Board members had made it a priority to protect athletics, arts and extra-curricular activities, and he did not foresee any of those programs being in jeopardy without more funding. He said the real problem was trying to keep class sizes small enough that each student gets the attention he or she needs.
"Our class sizes are a priority right now, keeping them at 20 or less," he said. "No more money from the state means increased class sizes, which means less attention for students."
Kobza said the school district needed more funding to be able to add staff to its schools with increasing student populations.
Brown said educators could expect an increase in funding and that he was confident the Legislature would devise a plan before the April deadline.
However, he said an acceptable plan would include some direction as to where funds should go, as well as a shift in how existing money is appropriated. Without that assurance, he said, pitching a tax increase would be a tough sell back home.
"What we're looking for in the statehouse is accountability," Brown said. "We're not just giving school districts a blank check."
Sara Stites (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Scott Rothschild (email@example.com) contributed to this story.