Shawnee Mission board approves joint JoCo school district legislative priorities

The board of education this week approved a joint legislative priorities platform that all six public districts in the county worked on together. File photo.

The Shawnee Mission School District has become the first to approve a joint legislative platform that Johnson County’s six public school districts developed together in hopes of putting forth a united front on issues they have deemed vital to the continued success of public education in the county in the years to come.

The document approved by the board of education on Monday came out of a meeting of elected leaders and district administrators held during the Kansas Association of School Boards conference held in Overland Park in early December.

The document is limited to four priorities:

  • Protecting the state’s constitutional provisions for equitable and adequate funding for K-12 education.
  • Expanding the funding available for programs focused on school-based mental health services, an issue that has risen to the fore in the wake of several teen suicides in the county.
  • Supporting the addition of additional money to the K-12 funding formula to account for inflation, as directed by the Kansas Supreme Court.
  • Elimination of a rule passed in 2016 that puts a cap on the the amount of state aid disbursed for bond projects.

Two of the four priorities would appear to put the districts at odds with local legislative leadership. Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park has been among the proponents of an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would provide clearer direction on how much money the state must spend on K-12 funding. And both Denning and House Speaker Ron Ryckman have indicated that they don’t believe the state can afford the inflationary adjustment proscribed by the courts, and have suggested the legislature may have to start from scratch on the K-12 funding formula.

“We are going to be fighting for funding again and again and again, even just to get the inflationary measures added on,” SM Northwest area board member Patty Mach said Monday of the importance of presenting a united front on the funding measures.

The platform will now go before the boards of the five other public school districts in the county for approval.

The platform document is below:

The six public school districts of Johnson County, Kansas (Blue Valley, DeSoto, Gardner- Edgerton, Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Spring Hill), serving a combined 100,000 public school students, have come together to advocate on the following legislative priorities to be addressed in the 2019 Kansas legislative session.

Sanctity of the Kansas Constitution – We vehemently support and defend the protection of the authority of the Kansas Constitution that ensures suitable provisions for the equitable and adequate finance of education for all students in Kansas. We oppose any efforts to amend the provisions of the Kansas Constitution that ensure the inalienable rights of the students of the state of Kansas to a quality public education.

Behavioral and Mental Health Services – In the wake of growing concerns about student health and safety, from school shootings to suicide, we support expanding the current $10 million pilot program for school-based mental health services in collaboration with community mental health services funded programs to all school districts in Kansas. Providing for dedicated and sustained funding would allow districts to continue to increase the number of counselors and social workers available to support students and families. We support the restoration of state funds to the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services budget, and we oppose any further reduction to community mental health centers (CMHC) grant funding.

Inflation factor added to the Base State Aid – We support the addition of an inflationary adjustment factor to the base state aid (BASE) of the school finance formula. The 2018 Kansas Legislature adopted a plan to restore Kansas school district funding to constitutional levels by adding approximately $90 million per year over five years. The Kansas Supreme Court has approved that plan but said if the Legislature phases in the amount, it must add an inflationary adjustment, so the value is maintained. The State Board of Education has recommended a plan to add an inflation adjustment over the next four years, adding approximately $90 million per year. If the Legislature agrees to this funding early in the 2019 session, it could resolve the current litigation and allow school districts to more effectively plan for the upcoming school year, rather than waiting until the end of the session and beyond.

Elimination of the Bond Cap – We support the repeal of the legislation enacted in 2016 as part of the school finance bill that required districts to submit bond requests to the State Board and capped the amount of state aid disbursed for school district bond projects at the amount of bond and interest debt retired in the previous year. The law has been amended to adjust for inflation and to exempt the first $175 million of any individual potential bond issue from the cap, but we continue to be concerned that the cap will hamper district efforts to improve or expand their buildings and facilities. We call for repeal of the bond cap.