OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A creeping budget shortfall, that’s the situation described for Kansas school districts trying to figure out how to make up state funding shortfalls for special education.
The issue has been in conflict for more than a decade and has been brought up once again as lawmakers mull over the matter in Topeka, Kansas.
The situation, however, is also being talked about locally as local school districts look at their budgets and try to figure out the ebb and flow of finances for the next few years.
At a recent meeting of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education, district officials laid out how special education funding, or SPED funding, has become a bigger divot year-to-year.
Shawnee Mission School District Board Member Heather Ousley, speaking to the district’s finance people, noted how the SPED funding shortfall continues to grow.
By Kansas statute that amount is supposed to be covered up to 92% by the state.
“And I know we’re already less than the 70% as a district. We’re at like, say, 67%. Is that correct?” Ousley asked.
“Yeah, 67-68[%] right in there,” Russell Knapp, chief financial officer for the Shawnee Mission School District, said.
“If we continue on a downward trajectory of a couple percentage points higher than what the state is at – [that] would that put us at 62-63% in 2024-2025,” Ousley said.
For the Shawnee Mission School District that could be more than $8 million and amount possibly blunted by new incoming school funding formulas, but not fully covered.
Kansas Democrats have pushed for the state’s surplus to be used to remedy the situation but Republicans have been resistant saying money remains tight.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner signaled that the money gap will likely not be closed outside of the possibility that they would use one-time federal money.
“One of the issues of concern that legislators have is any funding increases that we put in – so if we were to put in another $30 million into special education – we are under a federal mandate known as MOE – maintenance of effort. And what that means is that it must be maintained not only next year. We have to hit the same level or rise above it,” Baumgardner said.
Still, the issue weighs on local school districts.
“When we say special education is not being funded – it actually is via the general fund. So that $8 million dollars that we talk about being short – we’re actually transferring that money from the general fund to special education. So it’s really the general ed budget that is being shorted, if you will,” Dr. Michelle Hubbard, superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, said.
A meeting of the House K-12 Education Budget and Senate Education Conference Committee is scheduled for Wednesday. That committee has the authority to move legislation forward that would provide more funding.
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