School Funding Fights Ramp Up as State Legislative Sessions Near Finish

By Daarel Burnette II — March 26, 2019 3 min read
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School funding formulas are infamously difficult to replace. That’s especially true this year as state legislatures are being pressured by their constituents to boost school spending amid teacher strikes and budget surpluses.

At issue is finding a way to avoid raising taxes, while at the same time getting some district superintendents to concede to potential loss in revenue and figuring out how to even the playing field between property rich and property poor districts.The nation’s K-12 funding formulas are, on average more than 20 years old, though experts say they should be replaced once every decade.

Here are some of the states where money has dominated this year’s legislative session.

Kansas: Despite providing more than $525 million in additional school spending last year, the state’s supreme court says Kansas still needs to allocate more money to adjust for the cost of inflation. Two very different bills are moving through the legislature. A Senate bill would provide $90 million more per year for the next four years. A House bill would provide $90 million for the next two years, but then halt the funding and only provide increased funding for at-risk students. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat and a new governor, has urged the state legislature to agree on a proposal before lawmakers go on a three-week break in April.

Massachusetts: Hundreds of teachers, students and a few Patriot football players packed the capitol auditorium last week to urge legislators during a hearing to overhaul the state’s 25-year-old funding formula. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has backed a bill that would provide $1.1 billion over seven years to schools while a separate bill would provide more money and distribute more of that money to schools with heavy concentrations of poor students and English-language learners.

Idaho:Idaho has some of the lowest-funded districts in the nation, and a coalition of public school advocates pledged to finally replace the state’s funding formula this year. But legislators haven’t been able to agree on several provisions of what an overhaul would look like, including an effort to make funding based on where students are enrolled instead of where they attend school. Local media indicate that this year’s efforts may have fizzled after a House and a Senate bill were killed shortly after being introduced.

Texas: Conservative legislators in Texas have been itching to rid the state of its decades-old “Robin Hood” funding formula, which takes money from property-wealthy districts and sends it to property-poor districts. School funding earlier this year was declared an emergency agenda item by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. A GOP proposal has emerged in the House that would add $9 billion in state funds over the next two years. But already legislators have stripped from the bill a proposal that would base teacher pay on performance and another proposal to provide some districts more money if they performed well as part of an effort by district superintendents to retain control over how they spend their money.

Maryland: Thousands of teachers earlier this month marched on the state Capitol to push for more funding of schools. The crowds surprised state legislators who have been stalling on an effort to replace the state’s funding funding formula with one that would provide more money for its growing number of poor students and students of color. A 25-member commission chaired by the former chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William “Brit” Kirwan, recommended that the state provide $4 billion more for schools over the next decade, but politicians say they need a new revenue source to fund such an expensive bill. Democrats in the General Assembly proposed a bill earlier this month that would provide $1 billion more for schools over the next two fiscal years as a sort of down-payment on the plan.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

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