At first glance, the Kansas school finance formula — the way that the state fulfills its constitutional duty to provide an adequate public education to all Kansas students — is complicated.
But keep in mind that the work of educating all students is a complicated task! The Kansas landscape includes densely populated urban and suburban areas, but it also includes small, remote districts surrounded by hundreds of miles of farmland. And every community is different. Our challenges and our opportunities are different, based on the community where we live and the students and families we serve.
It is important to realize that some students require more resources to educate, and this creates more expenses. The general fund has “weightings,” which add to the amount of funding a school receives. In Eudora, we receive weighting funds for students in our high school career/technical education courses, special education, students who qualify for free/reduced lunches and those who are transported to school.
The genius of this formula is that it was built to respond immediately to changes in a local district, if there are population changes, a decrease or increase in the number of at-risk students, each year. (If you’ve heard about a proposal to fund public schools through block grants, keep in mind that it would be incredibly difficult for this type of a system to be responsive to our district in the same way.)
First adopted in 1993, the Kansas school finance formula has managed to ensure stability and success for every community in Kansas, in spite of the wide variety of local needs each district naturally has. Public schools will look different in Wichita, or Kansas City Kansas, or Blue Valley, than they do in Eudora. And that’s because our communities are different. But the finance formula was written to ensure equity — that each community, regardless of zip code, would have the resources necessary to provide their students a high-quality public education.
So, the next time you hear someone say that we should rewrite the finance formula because it’s broken, or because it’s too complicated, I hope you’ll take a moment to respond with something along these lines…
If we get a new finance formula for Kansas schools, let’s just make sure it still meets the complicated needs of every local district in the state, and that it can change and adapt each year as local districts change.
And — although it should go without saying — let’s make sure the Kansas Legislature does what it takes to fund the formula completely. Because in the end, a partially-funded formula just doesn’t work.