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
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
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
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
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
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 | www.edweek.org
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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'
"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
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
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
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
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