Too early to tell for sure, but it is starting to look like that $200,000-plus consultant report on costs of K-12 education for public school students might just tell legislators how much it should cost to educate your “average” Kansas school child with your “average” Kansas school teacher.
Sorry about that unfortunate use of the word “average” but it is a term that hasn’t been used in the same sentence as school finance for a long time.
That consultant study, which lawmakers will receive March 15, is taking an approach that is rare. Because nobody thinks his/her child or grandchild, or niece or nephew, is average, and no teacher raises a hand at a school teacher conference when the moderator asks who is just an average teacher.
But it is a baseline that may be a key to convincing the Kansas Supreme Court that the state is adequately funding public schools.
Now, average cost is just a start, of course, but the consultant hired by the state is going to strip away the transportation, the food service, the maintenance, the administrative costs, and try to come up with a baseline for computing just how much money the Legislature ought to be appropriating for K-12 education.
Don’t worry, that busing, maintenance, administration, construction financing — and of course the key education elements like special programs for children who are poor, who don’t speak English and who have psychological and mobility problems — are going to be added back into that “average” cost. But just the average cost per pupil is a starting point that most lawmakers haven’t seen.
How those basic average costs and the weightings for students who need special programs, and the buildings and transportation and administration and everything else, is going to be added to that isn’t known yet. But at least lawmakers will have a place to start in rewriting the school finance formula and paying for it.
Key, of course, is convincing the Kansas Supreme Court that the new formula provides adequate funding for the state’s 286 school districts, those average base costs and the costs of additional services pupils need. And the pretty conservative Republican-dominated Legislative Coordinating Council hired a consultant to compute what is adequate and fair spending on schools so that every student has the support to become, well, good grown-up Kansans that we’ll all be proud of, or at least willing to live next door to.
Oh, that starting point, if lawmakers accept it, is just a starting point. They’ll want to figure just how much additional money districts will need because they teach every child, not just “average” children. And the scraps will be over whether the Legislature can convince the court that the funding provided, spent in a businesslike manner, will yield a good education.
So, look for some to maintain that school districts are misspending state aid money; some to maintain that districts get so little money that they must shuffle it around to make up for weightings that aren’t strong enough or that will threaten school administrator salaries and cheerleader and football uniforms and the Astroturf at the football stadium.
And it comes down to spending, of course: Whether the new examination of cost means that the state isn’t providing enough support for local schools or too much money, and eventually whether those locally elected school boards are using their money to efficiently educate those students.
More money needed? Raise taxes or cut spending on everything else the state provides its citizens. Spending about the right amount, but not seeing it used efficiently by districts? Hammer the school boards. Spending more than the consultants believe is necessary? Don’t worry about that one...
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com