Hinson begins circulating school funding scheme that would more closely represent Missouri approach, NEJC legislator has concerns about constitutionality

Superintendent Jim Hinson.
Superintendent Jim Hinson.

Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson earlier this month began circulating a concept document outlining an approach to Kansas school funding that would more closely represent the formula used in Missouri, where he was the superintendent of the Independence School District, than previous Kansas plans.

The problem, says Fairway Rep. Melissa Rooker, who sits on both the House K-12 Finance and Education Committees, is that Kansas and Missouri have very different constitutional frameworks to build a finance formula from.

“The Missouri constitution is very different than the Kansas constitution,” Rooker said. “They have nothing similar to the adequacy provision that we have.”

Hinson’s formula would use the spending levels of the state’s top-performing districts as a benchmark for setting state funding levels. It would also require that a school district collects at least 15 mills of local option budget property tax before it was eligible to receive equalization funding from the state. Also of note, Hinson’s plan would reduce the number of student categorizations eligible for increased per-pupil aid from the current 14 to just two.

Rooker stressed that Hinson’s approach would increase reliance on local property taxes — a risky proposition in the current environment.

“Given the shockwave that ran through the county when property tax notices came out a couple weeks ago, I worry that this formula doesn’t include any enhancements from the state,” she said. “Given how high our property tax bills have been raised, there should not be so much reliance on local property tax revenues.”

But, she said, her main concerns were with issues of constitutionality. Hinson’s proposal appeared unlikely to satisfy the equity and adequacy mandates of the Supreme Court in the Gannon case, she said.

“This approach is inherently disequalizing, and incredibly short-sighted,” she said. “It doesn’t address direction we got in the Gannon opinion.”

Rooker was one of a select group of district-area legislators invited to meet with Hinson to get a preview of his funding proposal last week. None of the local Democrats who have appointments on education-related committees — including Sen. Pat Pettey and Reps. Jarrod Ousley, Jerry Stogsdill and Nancy Lusk — were asked to participate in the briefing.

“I have never been contacted by Hinson about any issue,” said Stogsdill. “I thought he might want to include reps from both sides of the aisle on this issue and any other issue that impacts the SMSD.”

Hinson will hold a meeting with members of the media at 1 p.m. today to provide further details on his proposal.