In interviews with statewide media last week, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he hopes that aspects of the block grant school finance bill passed by the legislature last session — namely the ability for districts to have more freedom to allocate funds where they see fit — will be carried over into a permanent funding formula, a signal that the block grant approach may be more than just the temporary plan it was initially touted to be.
That news is likely to rankle public education advocates who point to Kansas’s impressive return for investment under the school finance formula that had been in place since 1992. But even as Johnson County districts prepare for the possibility of allotments — reductions in the amount of funds they had been promised under the block grant bill — the approach is still preferable to the old formula to some administrators.
At a roundtable with local press earlier this month, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson said that even if he had known this spring that the district might get less than it was promised under the block grant bill, he would still have publicly supported it.
“I think it makes our support of the block grant bill even more imperative because of what’s going on with school finance,” Hinson said of the possibility of allotments. “If the allotments occur, every district gets a reduction. If the formula would have continued to operate, with the reduction in the amount of money going into the formula, the impact on the Shawnee Mission School District would have been much greater.”
Hinson broke ranks with the district’s traditional public education allies ahead of the vote on the block grant bill in March by lending the district’s support for the measure. The main rationale, Hinson argued, was that richer district like Shawnee Mission, end up having funds raised through local taxpayers shipped to other, less affluent districts.
Still, Hinson acknowledges that the block grant has posed its challenges. Though the two-year funding cycle provides the district with a semblance of surety about how much it should receive from the state, it provides no mechanism for increasing funds when district enrollment goes up. As Shawnee Mission sees more students in its classrooms, its funding from the state remains the same.
“Under the current block grant system, we have increased in enrollment, as you know, and we think that increase in student enrollment will be even greater next year. There is no new revenue for that,” Hinson said.