Education Week - March 25, 2015 - (Page 18)

Fight Looms on Kansas Plan to Fund K-12 Via Block Grants Legislature on board; court voices concern By Andrew Ujifusa The fight over how much to spend on Kansas' public schools- and how that money gets spent- appears ready to enter the next stage of a long-running battle, now that the state legislature has approved a plan to ditch the state's K-12 funding formula and replace it with block grants for districts. The switch to a block grant system, created by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, could face a swift challenge from the legal system, however. A few days before the plan gained final approval last week, a panel of state district court judges said it might bar the plan from being implemented because of previous rulings in a school finance lawsuit that dates back to 2010. Proponents of the plan, including Republican policymakers who control the state legislature, stress that the plan to fund districts through block grants only lasts for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, and that this period will give lawmakers sufficient time to create a new formula. They also say that the state's current formula badly needs to be replaced and is not producing high levels of student achievement. However, critics of the block grants say that districts will lose out on funding they would have otherwise received under the formula, and that the block grants themselves will still be subject to the whims of the state appropriations process over the next two years. They say that the K-12 spending picture is threatened by the state's ongoing fiscal difficulties. In the background is a court case, Gannon v. Kansas, in which the legal system will ultimately decide whether the state's funding for public schools is inadequate. Ending the Formula The current formula in Kansas takes into account districts' enrollment, student demographics, and transportation needs. For example, students designated as "at risk," such as those receiving subsidized meals, are eligible for additional funds. Under the new plan, that formula, and the considerations it makes for those factors, would disappear. (As of late last week, the governor had yet to sign the legislation.) Instead, for the next two school years, districts would receive their funding in block grants for them to spend on their students and operations. BLOGS High School Redesign Gets Focus In Latest Proposed 'i3' Regulations | POLITICS K-12 | School districts and nonprofits that want a piece of the new $120 million in the Investing in Innovation grant program are urged to focus their attention on high school redesign, under proposed regulations published in the Federal Register March 17. Under the proposal, prospective grantees for all three kinds of i3 grants-scale-up, validation, and development- are encouraged to pitch projects designed to increase the number and percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for postsecondary education and the workforce. For example, i3-funded programs could: help schools implement a rigorous high school curriculum; provide accelerated learning opportunities or personalized learning; develop a strong link between high school coursework and the real working world; improve science and math education; or reduce the need for remedial coursework at the college level. And to ensure that the money goes to low-income students, grants would be aimed at high schools that are eligible to operate schoolwide Title I programs, which means that at least 40 percent of their students are in poverty. The proposed new i3 rules closely track with a spending bill for the U.S. Department of Education that passed earlier this year and called for the department to put a new, high-school-oriented spin on i3. The program was first created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus, in 2009. The spending bill also cut back the i3 program, from $141 million in fiscal 2014 to $120 million in fiscal 2015. And the legislation eliminated a $46 million competitivegrant program aimed at high school overhaul. Anyone who wants to comment on the regulations can do so over the next month, and the feds will consider those comments before coming up with the final regulations. 18 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 25, 2015 | The Obama administration really wants i3 to be part of its legacy and is trying hard to get the program "authorized" under a pending rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. If that happens, i3 would be a permanent part of the esea and would stand a greater chance of sticking around for the long haul. -ALYSON KLEIN House, Senate Republicans Unveil Broad Fiscal 2016 Blueprint | POLITICS K-12 | House and Senate Republicans unveiled their fiscal year 2016 budgets last week and-spoiler alert-they look absolutely nothing like the president's. Both would fund the federal government to the tune of $493 billion, keeping in place the across-the-board spending caps, known as the sequester, to which the president's proposed budget does not adhere. And both would make even steeper cuts for non-defense discretionary funding beginning fiscal 2017. And neither proposal from the House and Senate budget committees contains much in the way of policy or funding details when it comes to K-12 education, nor do they propose agency-by-agency breakdowns for federal funding levels. Those will have to await the regular appropriations process. Even those top-line figures stand in stark contrast to President Barack Obama's fiscal 2016 request, which was unveiled in early February. The president's budget proposed a total of $70.7 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education, an increase of $3.6 billion, or a 5.4 percent hike over 2015 levels. The president's proposed increase for education-and other domestic programs-was the administration's first volley with the Republican Congress on an issue that's officially now dominating budget talks: whether and how to end the across-the-board-cuts known as "sequestration." In 2013, Congress brokered a temporary deal to alleviate the cuts for both military programs and domestic ones, like education. But that deal expires this coming fall, and then the cuts kick back in full force. On March 16, the president addressed the funding discrepancy ahead of the release of the House budget proposal. In a meeting with members of the Council of the Great City Schools, the president emphasized the significant toll sequester-level spending would have on early-childhood and K-12 education programs. "I can tell you that if the budget maintains sequesterlevel funding, then we would actually be spending less on pre-K to 12th grade in America's schools in terms of federal support than we were back in 2000," he said. "The notion that we would be going backwards instead of forwards in how we're devoting resources to educating our kids makes absolutely no sense." When it comes to education, the House budget proposal focuses mainly on higher education and, specifically, on how to restructure the Pell Grant program, which provides tuition assistance for low- and middle-income students. As for K-12, the House budget proposal zeroes in on rolling back the role of the federal government and eliminating duplicative programs. The budget notes, for example, that a 2014 Government Accountability Office report found 209 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or stem, education programs in 13 federal agencies at a cost of $3 billion annually. Whereas the House budget proposal asks each of the chamber's committees to identify and recommend $1 billion in funding cuts for programs from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2025, the Senate's plan only asks the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the Finance Committee to do so. However, the Senate plan provides some specificity on two K-12-related policies. Additional federal dollars could be directed at programs that protect children from sexual predators in schools, so long as that additional funding does not raise new revenue or increase the deficit. The same goes for programs that improve community health centers. -LAUREN CAMERA The plan would largely freeze basic aid to schools, keeping it at about the same level, $4.1 billion, in fiscal 2016 as in the current fiscal year. However, a Kansas Department of Education analysis showed that districts will lose out on $51 million in state aid they were expecting under the formula in fiscal 2016. Districts with rising enrollments, as well as those with growing numbers of at-risk students, could also see reductions in overall state per-pupil funding. Flexibility or Uncertainty? The temporary move to block grants would ensure that legislators would have the time to fix a "horribly complicated" formula that hasn't led to strong levels of student achievement, said David Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a Wichita-based group that favors conservative fiscal policies and free markets. As an example of the current formula's ineffectiveness, Mr. Trabert pointed out that just 36 percent of white students, who make up the majority of students in the state's class of 2014, demonstrated college readiness on four act subject tests. (Among all Kansas students in the class of 2014, 31 percent demonstrated college readiness on the act, 5 percentage points above the national average.) He also said districts often haven't been the best stewards of their budgets. "It really hasn't done anything for kids," Mr. Trabert said of the state's school finance system. "We don't fund students in Kansas. We fund institutions." But critics of the block grant plan, like the Kansas National Education Association, say that block grants only provide an illusion of stability, since the plan is not attached to the appropriations process. Opponents say that means that districts' supposed flexibility to use block grants won't matter very much if their funding is drastically cut even as child poverty in Kansas increases, which it has in recent years. More broadly, the block grant proposal does nothing to satisfy previous rulings from state courts that the state sufficiently fund its existing formula, said Marcus Baltzell, a spokesman for the teachers' union. "There was nothing wrong with the old formula as long as it was properly funded," Mr. Baltzell said. Legal Fight on the Horizon The courts, however, could step in and complicate the fate of the block grant legislation. Last year, in a ruling on Gannon v. Kansas, a suit in which the plaintiffs alleged in 2010 that the state was not funding public schools as required in the Kansas Constitution, the state supreme court ruled that Kansas school funding was inequitable. Legislators responded by increasing spending on certain programs targeted to relatively poor districts, a solution the state's highest court deemed satisfactory. However, the court did not rule on the question of funding adequacy in Kansas. It remanded that question to a state 3rd Judicial District Court panel. Last December, that panel ruled that K-12 spending in the state was, in fact, inadequate, and said that if lawmakers increased annual K-12 spending by $548 million, or an increase in per-student spending from $3,852 per year to $4,654 per year, it could be a legally sound fiscal solution. Earlier this month, before the Kansas Senate approved the blockgrant legislation, that district court panel announced that it was considering issuing an order to block that bill from taking effect. The state has also been grappling with large budget deficits-Kansas faces a $600 million budget deficit for fiscal 2016, according to estimates published earlier this year. As of last month, fiscal 2015 tax revenues were $37 million below analysts' estimates published at the start of the fiscal year.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 25, 2015

Education Week - March 25, 2015
Civics Tests for Diplomas Gain Traction
For Education Next, Views With An Edge
Employers Integral To Career Studies
Experience Seen as Boost For Teachers
Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed Tech
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
States Should Play Role in Fostering Engagement, Report Says
Teacher-Leadership Movement Gets Boost From Ed. Dept.
Blogs of the Week
Nonprofits Link Businesses To Career-Tech Programs
At Beaver Country Day, Investing In Innovation
Special Education Task Force Urges Overhaul for California
Gov. Cuomo’s Budget Sparks Backlash in N.Y.
Fight Looms on Kansas Plan To Fund K-12 Via Block Grants
Blogs of the Week
Why School Policies Need to Be Fine-Tuned
Which ‘Common Core’ Are We Talking About?
What Will Be the Impact of the Assessments?
More Educator Voices on Common-Core Implementation
Overcoming ‘Initiative Fatigue’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Breaking the Code of the Common Core

Education Week - March 25, 2015