Noting that he was “very disappointed” that legislative leaders had not used the two-year block grant period to craft a new K-12 formula, Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson on Thursday shared additional details of the funding concept he presented to some Republican elected officials in recent weeks.
In a press availability with attorney Fred Logan, who represents the district on some matters related to school finance, Hinson said he was compelled to begin circulating the plan after getting concerned about the impending June deadline for the legislature to develop a new formula.
“Did we in Shawnee Mission really want to put our neck out on the line and introduce some of these concepts?” Hinson said. “We were hoping that we could work collaboratively a long time ago to be part of the process. Now we’re having to introduce some ideas to say, okay, folks, let’s get going and let’s look at some opportunities that might be really great for kids.”
Among the drivers behind the concept he has worked with others to develop in recent months, Hinson said he believed a new formula should:
- Include provisions explicitly geared toward addressing the lowest performing 25 percent of students. Hinson suggested the formula should require the legislature to set money aside that would be available to the Kansas State Department of Education to experiment with programs for low-performing students, like a summer school program.
- Move away from an over-reliance on special weighting categories to determine how much money a specific district receives. The current formula has 14 weighting categories that allow districts to receive enhanced per-pupil revenues. Hinson suggested that number could be reduced to as few as two: English language learners, and at-risk students.
- Use the funding levels of the districts with the best student outcomes as the basis for minimum per-pupil funding. Hinson suggested this approach would yield a base state aid per pupil of more than $8,000. Logan said such an approach would roll back the evolution of the funding scheme over the past 25 years toward more and more weighting categories. “If you decrease the money that goes into weightings, it only stands to reason that there would be more money available for base state aid per pupil,” Logan said. “I think it’s worth noting that in 1992, when that formula was adopted, there were four weightings. The other weightings came over the years.”
Logan argued that the passage of the 1992 formula stripped away much of the local authority property-rich districts like Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley had enjoyed for years.
“Prior to 1992, schools districts such as Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley were free to use their property tax wealth pretty much in the manner they determined,” Logan said. “And the courts struck that down as inequitable. But I think a lot of people feel that the 1992 formula went too far the other way.”
Some local legislators have expressed skepticism in the framework Hinson has put forth, saying that it was unlikely to pass constitutional muster. Rep. Melissa Rooker, who was briefed on the ideas earlier this month, said she saw problems with nearly every part of the approach.
“In each section of it, what I see are constitutional problems,” she said.
Hinson stressed on Thursday that he was not introducing a bill, but was simply trying to generate conversation as the deadline neared. He said he hoped legislators would not rely on a system that closely mirrored the previous funding formula just because it was easier to do.
“[These] might be great ideas, they may not see the light of day,” Hinson said. “But we have the opportunity now to really be innovative and creative because of where we are in school finance in Kansas to really have some discussion about what really is in the best interest of students.”
He said he believed all parties — including the education community — bore some of the blame for the current situation.
“Certainly I think a lot of the responsibility goes to the legislature, and to the Governor’s office as well,” he said.
Hinson said he had no contact with the Governor’s office prior to the release of his concept.
Hinson was one of just three Kansas superintendents to lend his district’s support to the block-grant proposal at the time. Then-Blue Valley and Olathe Superintendents Tom Trigg and Marlin Berry have since left the state for other positions.
Logan noted that the district’s support of an opportunity to develop a new plan was consistent with the formal legislative policy that has been part of its platform for at least a decade.
“[The school board] did that not for support of the block grant system, but [because it was] consistent with their long-held position that there needs to be a new formula,” Logan said.