Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Finance Reform Embraced by Some ; Bill Starts in Six Districts, Would Expand to 286

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Finance Reform Embraced by Some ; Bill Starts in Six Districts, Would Expand to 286

Article excerpt

Superintendents of several Kansas public school districts Tuesday embraced the underlying concept -- not specific details -- of a Senate bill creating a new approach for financing public school districts that would be implemented statewide in 2017.

Sen. Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, revealed Senate Bill 294 as the annual session grinds through its final weeks. It would create a six- district pilot program for funding K-12 schools that would be expanded to as many as 106 districts in the second year, and all districts in the third year, as a block-grant mechanism of distributing state aid expires.

Inaugural districts in the Abrams plan would be Concordia, McPherson, Marysville, Hugoton, Blue Valley and Kansas City, Kan. -- the same six districts already designated in state law as "innovative" districts exempt from many state laws and regulations governing management of public schools.

Marysville superintendent Bill Mullins testified at the Senate committee's hearing as a proponent of the bill, but suggested an opt- out clause ought to be woven into the legislation. Districts that agree to test the approach should be allowed to walk away if unanticipated problems emerge, he said.

There is anxiety, he said, that comes with operating outside the school-finance budget system serving traditional districts.

"That's something that makes me nervous," Mullins said. "The concepts in the bill are worth exploring."

Mike Crawford, superintendent of the Hugoton district, drove seven hours from southwest Kansas to express support for the bill because it would emphasize student success after graduation from high school rather than on standardized tests.

"The framework is powerful," he said. "It's a radical change in school funding. This could be monumental if we can get this right."

Concordia's superintendent also embraced the bill, while representatives of the McPherson, Blue Valley and Kansas City innovative districts decided to offer "neutral" testimony.

Opponents of Abrams' bill said it wasn't the proper mechanism for replacing the block-grant bill recently approved by the House and Senate and awaiting action by Gov. …

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