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Consultant Suggests Kansas Schools Could Need $450 Million to $2 Billion More

  A consultant's report released Friday suggests the possibilty that more money than previously thought might be needed for local schools. (Photo by Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service)

Consultant Suggests Kansas Schools Could Need $450 Million to $2 Billion More

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Kansas News Service

A report released today (FRI) suggests lawmakers may have to add from $450 million to $2 billion to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order to get school spending in compliance with the state’s constitution.  School districts suing the state have called for at least $600 million.  The analysis — by external consultants — matters because Republican legislative leaders had hoped it could form the basis of their rationale to the Kansas Supreme Court for whatever amount they ultimately devote to the state’s education funding formula this spring.  The legislature hired the consultants amid a court order to fix school funding. At least one legislative leader said following the report’s recommendations would mean either massive cuts to other state services, or corresponding tax hikes.

“Additional funds will not be possible without implementing another major tax increase on all Kansans and without continuing to short other state needs such as healthcare, social services, transportation, and higher education all in the favor of schools,” said Senate President Susan Wagle.  “There will be major losers at the end of this,” she continued in a statement, “and that will be either the Kansas taxpayers or other state services whose funding stream will be cut.”

Democrats appeared happy with the outcome of the report Friday. Yet they had initially called into question one of the author’s credentials, apparently concerned the study might give legislators political and legal cover to spend less than $600 million.  People who had long advocated for more robust state spending on local schools took vindication from the consultants’ report.  

“It proves what we’ve been saying in the legislature and in the courts,” said House Democratic Leader Jim Ward. “We’ve underfunded schools significantly over a long period of time. … It’s going to be expensive to fix it.”

The Kansas Supreme Court has charged lawmakers with coming up with a school funding formula aimed at closing achievement gaps.  Like past studies, this report suggests more money is needed to get results for students.  Republican Senator Molly Baumgardner, chair of the Senate education committee, was more uncertain of what the 160-page report means. Lawmakers received it at 1pm Friday and were scrambling to digest it.

“OK, we don’t know exactly what it says,” she said. “We’re going to read and we’ll go from there.”

Republicans and Democrats alike want to know whether the report contains errors or other problems, such as how student enrollment was calculated. The reports’ authors will come to Topeka Monday to answer their question.  The report lays out three spending scenarios. The cheapest, which aims for a 95 percent graduation rate by 2022, would cost an estimated $450 million.

But it would cost $1.7 billion to get 90 percent of students on grade level in math and reading by that same year, and $2 billion to get 60 percent of them at the levels in those subjects that they’ll need for college.  Those calculations don’t specify where that money should come from. Schools are funded with a combination of state, local and federal dollars.

Read more about this story.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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