Franklin County schools will benefit from the funding measure passed by Kansas lawmakers last weekend but how much they will benefit is still in question.
Just after the more than $500 million bill was approved an error was discovered that shaves off $80 million, if not fixed when lawmakers return to Topeka later this month.
Even with the bill’s error, area schools are set to receive over $100,000 this year in additional funding. Dr. Jeanne Stroh, superintendent of Ottawa schools, said the bill has a lot to like.
“Overall, there’s not much about that bill that affects us greatly other than the funding,” she said. “There is nothing that we can’t live with. I think there are some very positive things certainly. It’s a great thing anytime public education gets more money.”
Stroh said parts of the bill that clears up transportation funding and the use of capital outlay funds are also positives but she said the additional funding is a welcome outcome.
“For USD 290, our printout shows that we would gain about $700,000,” Stroh said. “That would include our new facilities weighting and additional dollars for special education. We had already planned on the new facilities weighting. When we take that out, and it’s based on enrollment, and we take out special education additional funding, it will be about 140,000 additional dollars. We are now waiting to see what the Supreme Court says. Part of this bill that passed, the really good part is that the state will pick up the tab for the ACT assessment that we do for all of our juniors. There’s a portion of this, $2.8 million, that has been allocated for school districts across the state who give that assessment. The state will now pick up the tab. That’s between $6,000 and $10,000 per year so that’s a very positive thing.”
The ruling comes after the state Supreme Court ruled that Kansas was not adequately funding K-12 education. With the new bill now passed, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on May 22 and will give a ruling about two weeks later. Stroh said she will be paying close attention to the role of the Local Option Budget as currently written in the bill.
“We have a local option budget which is local dollars and is equalized by the state in every district,” she said. “This bill requires that 15 percent of our LOB is applied to base state aid. In other words, 15 percent of what our LOB funding will be counted by the state as per-pupil funding. I will be interested to hear what the court has to say about that. In essence, that makes state aid about $4,900 per student. That’s what it looks like on paper but in reality, that’s not additional funding. It’s just taking money that we already have, that we get from local taxpayers, and putting it onto what the state aid is for each student. So I don’t know if that will pass the Supreme Court’s expectations.”
Education funding problems are not limited to Kansas. Teacher walkouts in Oklahoma followed similar protests in West Virginia that shut down schools for nine days resulting in a 5 percent wage increase. Earlier this month, Kentucky teacher protested pension reforms shutting down some schools and Arizona teachers are threatening a walkout to increase wages and restore funding levels to schools.
A story in the Washington Post said adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma spends nearly 30 percent less on schools than it did a decade ago. School buildings are crumbling in many parts of the state, textbooks are outdated and tattered, and about 20 percent of districts have moved to four-day school weeks. Oklahoma teacher salaries ranked 49th in the nation, according to a 2016 report by the National Education Association, a leading teachers union.
Education secretary Betsy DeVos tweeted teachers should do what is best for students.
“Whether you believe good teachers deserve better pay – I do – and/or states should be fiscally responsible – I do – we should all agree kids should not suffer for adult squabbles.”
Stroh said USD 290 is committed to making sure teachers get a portion of the added funds.
“Our priority is always to do staff raises first,” she said. “In the five years I have been here we have always given raises, certainly not to the extent that we need to but to the extent that we could and with what the budget allowed. So it’s always our intent as well as it is a state goal to see as much additional dollars go into staff raises as possible.”
“Out of a five-state region, Kansas is number four, Oklahoma is number five,” she said. “So giving raises to staff is important. We are in the midst of a teacher shortage in all areas. We want our young people to be honored to go into teaching and we want them to earn a wage that is commensurate with their education and their skills. So we have to pay them like professionals. Additional staff and programs come in after that. Then we have a list of priorities that we set and review every year and we continue to do that. But staff raises is always at the top, written in red.”
Stroh said she applauds the state for trying to increase school funding as it’s been several years since the district has faced cuts. She added that she does not believe cuts will come in the near future.
Another positive in the new bill is as increase in special education funding. She said that’s an area that has needed to be addressed for some time.
There is an increase of just over $200,000 for special education, she said.
“That has been under-funded for a number of years and was part of the court ruling to fund special education at the rate that’s required by law so that’s a good thing.”