Monday, January 05, 2015

Lawmaker: Funding should match actual student counts

State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said the legislature doesn’t determine how much will be spent on education. Then he described exactly how they determine how much will be spent on education. 

Simply put, the legislature determines how much state tax money is “available.” 
Jim DeCesare

Once the General Assembly reviews its priorities and determines how much money it wants to put into the state education budget, the only thing that remains is to divide it up by looking at enrollment projections and setting the per-pupil allocation. Granted, those projections need to be become more accurate.

Of course, DeCesare glosses over just how the General Assembly determines how much is available. But that is a collective decision for which the legislature is solely responsible, and it is inaccurate to suggest that the department of education determines how much will be spent. If that was true, and KDE set the amount based on what the schools need to reach state goals, the price tag would be much higher.

Setting the per-pupil allocation is simply the mechanism the legislature uses to initiate the calculations. But make no mistake. The legislature determines how much will be spent on the schools.

Tom Shelton is correct to suggest the process is arbitrary - or perhaps discretionary - on the part of the legislature.

DeCesare is correct, however, to suggest that the system would benefit from using “average daily membership” rather than “average daily attendance.”

Also, once Frankfort gets past calculating how to distribute funds to the schools, spending it is a lot like buying bread. Much more than the legislature, schools exist in the real world.

This from the Bowling Green Daily News:
When you go to the store for a loaf of bread, let’s say really good bread, you might spend $3. When you gas up your vehicle, you see the price on the pump and pay that.
That’s the real world.

Government doesn’t work that way.

When a local school district gets money from the state of Kentucky, the normal rules of actual cost are tossed out the window, according to local officials.

The funding formula established in 1990 is called Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK.

Kentucky can’t afford total local education costs, even taking into account local tax resources vs. state resources, two local school finance directors agreed.

That’s not a bad thing.

That’s just how it is.

So the state does the next best thing, providing support through a series of calculations and distributions, taking into account that not every district has a lot of local tax resources to fund schools. The approach takes the money from the haves and distributes part of it to the have-nots, in an attempt to equalize funding across the board.

It also doesn’t base state support on how many kids actually sit at the desks daily, but a on calculated variation of that – SEEK. The funding equity approach stems from a lawsuit years ago that challenged how Kentucky funds public education.

“It always seems to me how education is funded in Kentucky is very arbitrary,” said Superintendent Tom Shelton of Fayette County Public Schools in a recent article on the Kentucky School Boards Association website. “Every two years, our General Assembly will make a determination in how much will be spent on education. It takes an arbitrary amount of money and tells you how much will be given to our districts.”

Shelton is also president of the Council for Better Education, a consortium of 168 Kentucky public school districts. The CBE recently released “Adequacy and Equity for Excellence in Kentucky,” the results of a yearlong study of how Kentucky funds K-12 schools.

State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said the legislature doesn’t determine how much will be spent on education, but rather receives a number from Kentucky Department of Education on the number of students to be paid for, then weighs that number with the available state tax money that can come from the state general fund for SEEK.

DeCesare said lawmakers only set a per-pupil allocation. This school year it is $3,911 per student, though adjustments in the formula mean that’s not actually what the school district receives in state SEEK per-pupil funding. For example, in Warren County Public Schools, that $3,911 is lowered to $3,634, while in the Bowling Green Independent School District, it is increased to $4,404, according to figures provided by KDE.

Two times in the past four years, KDE has given the legislature a low number, and after the funding package was in place for two years, KDE has announced mid-year cutbacks to SEEK, DeCesare said.
“We’ve got to come up with a new way. We need to base the SEEK money on the kids that are actually enrolled in the school districts,” DeCesare said. “Every year, we come up short.”

Chris McIntyre, county district finance director, said the state should calculate SEEK on “average daily membership” rather than “average daily attendance,” a figure that is arrived at through a series of formulas that would leave a bookie scratching his head.

“Anytime you try to tinker with SEEK, people come unglued,” DeCesare said.

Here’s a couple of other examples about school finance in Kentucky.

When Warren County Public Schools provides instruction in English as a second language for one-tenth of its more than 14,000 student population, it pays about $2 million annually, McIntyre said. The state pays the county district $498,606, according to the 2014-15 figures from KDE.
When it comes to the cost of transporting students, the county district shells out about $7.8 million annually and the state gives the district about $4.7 million to pay for that, McIntyre said.

Bowling Green Independent spends about $300,000 annually providing ESL instruction; however, the state provides a much lower percentage of the funding, at $146,803, said Jeff Herron, city district treasurer.

When it comes to the city district transportation program, the city spends about $1.6 million and gets $968,730 from the state, Herron said.

“When you think about SEEK, it’s really not a funding formula; it’s an allocation formula,” Shelton said in the KSBA article.

SEEK was created in 1990 in response to a state public education reform movement tied to equalizing state funding across the state. The current funding approach has been under study and a new approach has been mapped out.

Last month, state officials began discussions surrounding CBE’s new study looking at how state resources might be applied differently. The $130,000 study was done by Picus, Odden & Associates, a school finance consulting firm.

This past legislative session, SEEK received nearly $4 billion. Under the new model proposed by the Picus, Odden & Associates study, Kentucky public funding support would have to grow, officials said in published reports. The new model could cost more than $9 billion annually.

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