Every year, the Kansas Legislature and school districts across the state discuss the statewide school finance formula, in order to determine how much money is to be given to each school district per student for the year. Recently, some of the larger school districts believe that the formula favors smaller schools. This last year there has been a push to change the funding formula to make it more equitable for larger school districts, such as the Shawnee Mission School District.
“We have a great school district, [but we] just don’t have enough funding,” SM East Principal Karl Krawitz said. “If we were able to get more money it would be easier to do the things we want to do.”
Early last summer, Newsweek Magazine named Shawnee Mission East the top public high school in the state of Kansas. The ranking was based on student to teacher ratio, graduation rate, AP/IB test scores, average SAT score and the percentage of graduates who are college bound. SM South and SM Northwest joined the list at number three and number five, helping to make the Shawnee Mission School District the most successful school district in the state academically, according to Newsweek.
However SMSD is one of the most underfunded school districts in the city according to the KC Business Journal: just seven years ago, they came in 25th out of 25 school districts for funding received per year in the KC Metro area. Over the last several years, they have jumped up and are currently ninth.
The amount of funding given to each school district is decided by the state’s school funding formula. This formula provides 37 different weightings based on each district’s profile and other factors that affect the school districts. Some of the larger drivers of the formula are the number of “at risk students” in the school district, the amount of busing provided by the school district and the number of Special Education students. According to Kansas State Legislature, the question they now face is how to make a fair medium between rewarding schools that are doing well but also helping out schools in need.
According to SMSD Superintendent Dr. Gene Johnson, the funding formula for the state of Kansas is not giving the SMSD the funding it needs.
“We have high enrollment, lower levels of students that are learning English as a second language, lower inner city levels and we are also unable to grow much because our schools are landlocked,” Dr. Johnson said. “These are all things that lower your weightings in the funding formula.”
Dr. Johnson believes that the funding formula in use right now is weighted in favor of smaller school districts for many reasons. The fact that they have lower enrollment with room to grow in their location is one of the reasons they have a higher weighting in the current formula.
Dr. Karl Krawitz and Dr. Johnson both believe that the current formula favors these smaller school districts, but he is also in favor of helping these districts out.
“I don’t have a problem at all giving these other schools money; however, I want it to be money well spent,” Dr. Krawitz said. “[SMSD] believes in giving more because we can and we want to help out, but then we just expect a little more help in return.”
Both of these administrators believe that the problem with the current funding formula is that some districts are contributing more share of the revenue while at the same time being to severely penalized by the funding formula.
“We just want to see something that is more fair, more equitable for our district,” Dr. Johnson said, “We know what we want to do in our school district, so we want to be able to do it and we don’t want to have to scrape around for more money.”
Dr. Barbara Bollier represents District 25, the SM East area, in the Kansas State Legislature. Although she is in favor of change in the funding formula, she finds it hard to reach a fair medium.
“This is a really important issue somehow we’re giving too much emphasis to smaller schools in a way that I think we will need to modify it somehow,” Dr. Bollier said. “It’s tough because somebody will always get the most money and somebody always the least so it’s just hard to rationalize.”
According to Dr. Bollier, this push for fairness comes from larger school districts such as Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley, because these are the school districts trying to catch up with the more rural districts.
In the 2009-2010 school year, the Chapman School District in Dickinson, Kansas received the most money per student in the state of Kansas. They received $52,466 per student. Considering this is a rural school district and that busing and transportation issues are more of a factor, cost per student would be expected to be higher. In contrast the Blue Valley and the SMSD are in the bottom half of this data between $12,212 and $12,613. That almost $40,000 difference per student ends up being a huge difference in the amount of funds the school districts have to work with.
One of the other significant reasons many of these smaller school districts are receiving more money from the financial formula is because of transportation for their students.
“You can take a small school district that has 200 kids in it and they may have over 200-250 square miles they have to cover, now that transportation is a lot more complicated than ours,” Dr. Krawitz said. “Let’s face it: you’re going to be on a bus for awhile so in that case, yes, they do deserve more money.”
Every year, the SMSD receives more money than the year before however they still only receive $12,536 per student as of the 2010-2011 listing in the KC Business Journal. This is over $4,000 less per student than the school districts at the top of the listing for the KC Metro area.
Dr. Krawitz believes that there is a better way to make the funding formula more equal for all Kansas schools.
“Last year we had to cut 13 teachers in our school alone and with student population staying relatively the same the rest of the teachers have to pick up the slack,” Dr. Krawitz said. “However the fact of the matter is, we aren’t getting the funding we need to function how we want to, that is just how the formula is set right now.”
Along with cutting teachers for the current school year, the SMSD also was forced to close four schools, change school boundaries and cut down on many programs throughout the district.
Although SMSD and other school districts had to make cuts and close schools, there were many smaller districts that came away unscathed from these budget cuts.
However, according to Dr. Bollier, all of the money allocated to these school districts is being used well.
“The reality is that it does cost more money relatively to educate a fewer number of students than to educate a whole bunch of students,” Dr. Bollier said. “This is why the current funding formula favors these smaller schools.”
Dr. Bollier says her main focus is to support the schools in the area that she represents but still keep the good of the entire state in mind.
“I think [the funding formula] needs to be changed and I do support our school district and our area in getting that re-evaluated and changed in a way that is more equitable for our area,” Dr. Bollier said. “However, we do need to take in concern the whole state and make sure it helps everyone whether they were named to the top by Newsweek or not.”