SMSD moms sign letter calling for veto of bill they say falls short on special ed funding

Governor Laura Kelly

Five Shawnee Mission moms sent a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly calling on a veto of the education budget bill. File photo.

Five Shawnee Mission parents who are part of a group that lobbies on behalf of children with complex medical needs and disabilities have sent a letter to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, calling on her to veto a wide-ranging education bill they say falls short of adequately funding schools’ special education services.

Lawmakers sent the bill to Kelly on Friday, May 6, and the governor has 10 days from that date to veto it.

What’s in the bill: The bill, HB 2567, contains a number of education-related provisions, including a budget for the Kansas Department of Education for the next three fiscal years.

The bill does fully fund Kansas K-12 schools under the court-mandated Gannon rule, but lawmakers opted not to allocate an extra $30 million for special education requested by Kelly.

Overall, the bill includes $520.4 million for special education services for fiscal year 2023 for school districts across the state, but education advocates have said another $155 million is needed to reach the state-mandated level of funding that covers 92% of districts’ “excess costs” to serve children with special needs.

HB 2567 also features a number of much-debated provisions including an “open enrollment” measure that will allow students in Kansas to transfer to any district regardless of where they live.

Both the special education funding levels and the “open enrollment” provision are opposed by the Shawnee Mission parents.

Who are the parents? The five mothers who signed the letter to Kelly are Laura Robeson, Christina Middleton, Amber Versola, Sarah Jahnke and Lesa Childers.

They wrote the letter as members of a nationwide advocacy group called Little Lobbyists, which according to its mission, works to “protect and expand the rights of children with complex medical needs and disabilities.”

Little Lobbyists got its start in 2017 with Washington, D.C.-based founders who wanted to defend certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The group calls itself nonpartisan.

Special ed funding: The Kansas State Department of Education estimates special education will be funded at 76% under the current budget.

The mothers’ letter says this does not meet a Kansas statutory requirement that says the state must fund at least 92% of districts’ “excess costs” for educating students with special needs. That is, costs that go beyond state-mandated, per-pupil funding levels.

To be at 92% funded, the special education budget needs to increase by roughly $150 million year-over-year, Robeson, one of the mothers, told the Post via email.

Their letter argues that funding could be provided due to Kansas’s revenue projections showing a current $3 billion surplus.

Without the additional $150 million yearly investment, Kansas school districts will need to continue to dip into their general education fund to make up the difference, the letter says.

Republican lawmakers who championed the bill’s passage have argued it does adequately fund special education services, the Kansas Reflector reports, and that concerns over underfunding are overblown.

Open enrollment: The letter also articulates the mothers’ concerns about the “open enrollment” policy, particularly when coupled with special education funding shortages.

The letter states open enrollment could lead to a number of issues for special education students, including less access to general education classrooms.

Open enrollment could also lead some districts to “an influx of unfunded special education students,” which can turn into a “negative funding loop” — meaning there are higher costs for the district with no additional state funding, according to the press release.

Key quote: “We see the impact on our children every day,” the letter reads. “For example, districts are unable to provide competitive para educator or special educator salaries. Districts may be forced to keep class sizes larger, and other programming may be cut in order to meet the financial obligations Kansas has failed to meet.”

The entire letter can be read below:

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