NEJC Sen. Wolf says block grant bill presented ‘now or never’ opportunity to improve funding formula for JoCo

Kansas Sen. Kay Wolf voted in favor of the block grant funding bill that was opposed by every local member of the House.
Kansas Sen. Kay Wolf voted in favor of the block grant funding bill that was opposed by every local member of the House.

Northeast Johnson County State Sen. Kay Wolf says she knew she would take some heat for voting in favor of the controversial block grant funding bill Monday that was opposed by every area representative in Friday’s House vote.

But, she says, she believes voting for the bill was the right move because it presents a “now or never” opportunity to help create a school finance formula that no longer punishes Johnson County districts.

“I’ve been here for 10 years, and the whole time I’ve been here we have been talking about trying to get a formula change,” she said. “The formula we’ve had since 1992 benefited other districts at the expense of Johnson County. There wasn’t any will for the legislature to change the formula other than for some of us here in Johnson County.”

In an interview with the Prairie Village Post Wednesday, Wolf noted that the formula adopted in 1992 had been widely opposed by Johnson County legislators at the time, including Audrey Langworthy, who represented northeast Johnson County in the Senate from 1984 to 2001.

Wolf said she respected her northeast Johnson County colleagues’ decisions to vote against the bill, but that she consulted with Shawnee Mission School District officials before deciding how to vote, and felt the move toward block grants and hopefully a new formula would ultimately be in the district’s best interests.

“I would not have just gone out and done this on my own,” she said. “I talked to the district, and we walked through the pros and cons. In the end, I believe this is the best thing for us to do.”

While the ultimate goal will be to craft a school funding formula that puts more of the money Johnson County sends to the state into its own schools, Wolf said she thinks the block grant bill is favorable to Johnson County schools compared to many of the smaller districts out west. An analysis of the bill by the Topeka Capital Journal found that Shawnee Mission fares relatively well under the funding structure that will be in place for the next two years if Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill into law. The bill also offers more flexibility to all schools on how they spend their state equalization dollars.

Wolf noted that her vote was not crucial to the bill’s outcome in the Senate, and that it would have been “the easy way out” to vote against it because she knew she would get backlash from some area education groups. But, she says, the opportunity to recraft school finance in a way that benefits area schools might not come along again.

“The number one thing for me was that I think we need a finance formula change,” she said. “And I think that’s what the SMSD was saying as well.”

A letter Wolf sent to her newsletter subscribers explaining her vote is embedded below: