Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
Kentucky should make some changes to the way the state funds public education – and include more funding for kindergarten and transportation – a group of legislators, school board members and superintendents decided after studying the issue for five months.
While the School Funding Task Force did not recommend increasing the base contribution to the state’s SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) education funding allocation formula, some of the changes, if enacted, would increase state funding to Kentucky’s 171 school districts.
The task force, which was created by the General Assembly to study potential changes to the SEEK formula, was made up of eight state legislators.
Three school board members – KSBA President Davonna Page of Russellville Independent, Tom Haggard of Covington Independent, and Brenda Jackson of Shelby County – and three superintendents – Robbie Fletcher of Lawrence County, Mike Borchers of Ludlow Independent and Paul Mullins of Logan County – also participated in the task force meetings.
During six meetings over the interim session, the group discussed all aspects of education funding including SEEK, transportation, facilities and the impacts of House Bill 563, which requires districts to adopt policies on non-resident students.
On Nov. 8, the task force announced nine recommendations to the 2022 General Assembly, which will pass a two-year state budget.
“With having nine recommendations on here, this is kind of like nine things on your child’s Christmas wish list,” said Sen. Max Wise, R- Campbellsville, who was co-chair of the task force along with Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville.
The recommendations include several things the legislature could do in 2022 – such as permanently fund full-day kindergarten, fully fund transportation and fund the School Safety Bill, and things to continue to study – such as determining the actual cost of an adequate education.
“If a few of these are truly considered we would really appreciate that, everything from full-day kindergarten to also transportation, that would be great for every single district in our state,” Fletcher said.
For example, if the state fully funded transportation, which is currently funded at 55 percent, districts could use the money now spent transporting students on other needs.
The task force also said the state should consider changing from using attendance to using membership for funding purposes, creating more Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs) and requiring all proposed legislation affecting schools to include a statement of how much it would cost districts.
“I just want to say that I'm very pleased with these recommendations particularly the kindergarten and the transportation funding. But I’m also a very big supporter of the FRYSCs program,” Page said.
The other recommendations include asking the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) to determine the actual cost of an adequate education, studying school funding again during the 2022 interim session and forwarding KDE reports on how education funding can follow students to the legislature’s appropriations and revenue committees.
KSBA, which supported the creation of the task force, also agrees with the group’s recommendations.
“Task forces like this are always a big undertaking for all involved, so we appreciate all the legislators who dedicated time and effort into this. It was absolutely worth it,” said KSBA Director of Advocacy Eric Kennedy. “Everyone gained a better understanding of how it works and how it can be improved.”
Nonresident student funding
During the task force’s discussion of House Bill 563, which requires boards to adopt non-resident student polices by July 1, 2022, Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) officials explained how education funding could follow students.
The task force directed KDE to create a report on transferring education funds between districts. The report explained that while state and federal education funding could easily be transferred from district of residence to district of attendance, transferring local education funding would be much more complicated.
Currently, non-resident students can be included in attendance for funding if the district has an agreement with the resident’s district, but after July 1, 2022 the agreements will no longer be needed and all non-resident students will be counted for state funding purposes, said Robin Kinney, KDE Associate Commissioner.
This school year there are about 26,000 students attending districts as non-resident students, she said.
Kinney explained that while KDE could transfer SEEK funding, it would not be able to transfer local funding because KDE does not control local tax revenue.
Any attempts to transfer local tax money would likely face significant legal challenges, Kinney said. The report explains that under the state constitution “no tax levied and collected for one purpose shall ever be devoted to another purpose.” In addition, the state’s Supreme Court’s decision in Rose v. Council for Better Education said the responsibility for adequately funding education lies with the General Assembly.
One option for transferring local funds would be creating add-ons to the SEEK funds for non-resident students, but that option would reduce other district’s SEEK funds and therefore could also be challenged in court, she said.
Page noted that school boards collect local taxes for their district to operate.
“Local funds, I strongly believe need to stay with the local district,” she said. “They are raised by the local district and paid by the local residents to educate the students in that district.”
In addition to the question of transferring local tax revenue, the nonresident provisions of HB 563 could have other consequences, Fletcher said. In Lawrence County, many students might choose to go to a school in another county that is closer to their home, he said.
“When we talk about open borders, there’s a possibility of closing schools and for other districts that could mean opening more schools,” Fletcher said. “So it’s something to keep in mind.”
School funding task force recommendations
• Permanently fund all-day kindergarten.
• Consider using membership instead of average daily attendance for funding.
• Fully fund districts’ transportation costs.
• Fully fund the School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019.
• Increase funding for Family Resource and Youth Services Centers.
• Create a School District Impact Statement to inform legislators about a bill’s cost to school districts.
• Ask LRC’s Office of Education Accountability to study the cost of an adequate education.
• Refer KDE reports on fund transfers for non-residents students to the legislature’s appropriations and revenue committees.
• Study school funding during the 2022 interim session.