Unified School District 475 has its proverbial ear to the ground, waiting to see what the newly-elected legislature will do about school funding. One of the only certainties right now is that there will be a new funding formula in the next fiscal year. No one knows yet what it will be.
The district had a chance to talk with local representatives and members of congress Thursday at its legislative luncheon.
As it is, the state has left several parts of the Kansas education system underfunded, including the all-day kindergarten and special education programs. USD 475 doesn’t have the funds to deal with juvenile offenders, either.
The state’s special education program is not legally considered fully-funded. The program is supposed to be funded at 92 percent, legally — it’s not. It’s currently at about 80 percent — about $54 million under what it’s supposed to be — according to Deputy Commissioner for the State Board of Education Dale Dennis.
“We have had a lot of students coming to us directly out of institutions, we don’t get any notification, they’re brought to our schools and started in our schools and then we’re just kind of told, ‘good luck,’” Superintendent Corbin Witt said.
The district has found itself having to create new programs and services for these students, in addition to continuing with old ones.
With the passing of SB367, the district must also contend with juvenile offenders. The law, which passed last year, has funneled many juvenile offenders back into their communities. The law ostensibly helps young offenders by keeping them close to home, but if the community doesn’t have the required resources to help them, it can put undo strain on both the children and the community. It could create a strain on the district’s resources as it fights to ensure these children’s mental health, educational, and other such needs are met. This new program could test the limits of everything from the courts and law enforcement to area mental health services and USD 475.
It can also create a safety issue for other students.
“The legislation is not so much the problem as is the funding ... that’s my biggest concern,” Rep. Lonnie Clark said. (R-Junction City).
While special education and SB367 are all legislatively mandated, all-day kindergarten is not the law. However, lack of funding has made kindergarten inequitable across the state — different districts find themselves offering different programs. Some children have more opportunity to learn than others.
The district requested the legislators who attended the luncheon keep these and other things in mind.
“Our challenge is, because of the drop in consensus revenue estimates, we have a $345 million deficit in (fiscal year) 2017,” Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia) said. “We have, on top of that, about $580 million in ‘18.”
“As resources are going down, needs of students are going up,” Witt said.