During his Town Hall at Ellinwood Thursday, Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan said he believes it’s time to look at a new school funding formula. “Free lunch isn’t the only indicator of at-risk,” he said, noting poor students may excel and more affluent students may face other issues.
Jordan stressed this is not an administrative issue and he was only expressing an opinion. He said it is an issue that should be “debated robustly.”
BY HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
The Associated Press
TOPEKA — A new commission looking for efficiencies within Kansas’ public school system raised questions Thursday about how the state provides extra money to help districts educate their poorest students.
The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission began the two-day meeting during which it will consider a draft of cost-savings proposals with a discussion of so-called “at-risk funding.”
School districts receive about $1,750 in extra funding for each student who is poor enough to qualify for free lunches, costing about $347 million statewide, Legislative Post Auditor Scott Frank said. But an audit of a random sample of students receiving the free lunches found that 17 percent — or about 23,000 students — weren’t eligible. Frank said another 6,900 students may be eligible but don’t apply.
Commission members asked whether it would be fairer to allocate the money based on the number of students who struggle on state tests or using U.S. Census poverty data.
Sam Williams, the Wichita businessman who chairs the commission, said he could see an outcry if people think the commission wants to take the at-risk money away and pre-emptively urged people to “settle down.”
There are several proposals on the table, including offering school districts incentives to merge or cooperate and changing the traditional teacher salary schedule, which ties pay to education and years of experience, to a salary range that takes into account experience and area of expertise.
Legislators created the commission this year, tying it to a proposal that would increase aid to poor school districts by $129 million for this school year in order to meet the Kansas Supreme Court mandate in March’s education funding lawsuit decision.
Members of the commission include superintendents, former state senators, principals and the head of a conservative think tank. It is separate from an efficiency taskforce created by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 and filled mostly with accountants.