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Kerri Schelling

Seeking to better understand SEEK? Here’s a primer on the allocation formula

Kentucky School Advocate
October 2019

By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director

Raise your hand if you are an expert in school finance. No? Don’t feel bad. Even after two decades at KSBA I couldn’t claim that title if I wanted to. My challenge, like many of you, isn’t a lack of interest; it is the fact that school finance is complicated. And it may be the most complex, and important, part of the job for new board members to learn. Operating a district takes money and, whether the funds come from the state or local sources, ensuring that money is properly managed is a fundamental responsibility of the school board. 

One of the most significant outcomes of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) was the creation of a new finance formula called Support Education Excellence in Kentucky or SEEK. It is the primary way the state allocates funding among school districts for K-12 education. Since it will be a key topic when the General Assembly convenes in January to pass a new two-year state budget, here are a few of the most important things for you to remember whenever SEEK comes up:

First, despite all the moving parts and rhetoric, the intent of the SEEK formula is simple: allocate state dollars among districts in such a way that when combined with local dollars the result is more equitable spending across Kentucky communities. It is a district-based formula. In other words, the more property rich a district is, the less state money it will receive through SEEK. 

Second, SEEK is an allocation formula, it is not truly a funding formula. The SEEK formula does not add up a district’s needs to produce a certain amount of funding, rather, it begins with a set amount of total state dollars and then uses many factors to allocate those dollars. 

Third, the SEEK formula has many components, it is not a single number. It begins with a guaranteed per-pupil base amount, which is determined by how much money the General Assembly puts in the state budget for SEEK, multiplied by the estimated number of students. Many adjustments are then made to each district’s base amount to account for differences among districts. Some of these, such as serving students who have additional education needs and transportation factors, add money to a district’s base amount. Then, the required local effort (30 cents per $100 of property tax assessment) reduces the district’s base amount.

Fourth, the purpose of SEEK is not to ensure adequate levels of funding. It is designed to distribute the available money in a way that helps assure equitable educational opportunities. Adequacy of funding for public education is entirely driven by the General Assembly putting an adequate amount of money into the formula. 

And lastly, even though the structure of the SEEK formula is an objective fact, written in state law, don’t be surprised when you hear people disagree about how much funding the state is contributing to public education through SEEK. Sometimes disagreements stem from confusion or lack of knowledge about what SEEK is and how it works. Sometimes people disagree because they have different interpretations of the numbers or only focus on one part of the formula.  

One thing that cannot be disputed, however, is that since 2008 the obligation to adequately fund public education has been unduly shifted from the state to the local level, due to rising costs and stagnant state spending. This is a trend that local communities cannot sustain. As a state we must collectively do better to meet our students’ needs, and you don’t have to be an expert in school finance to understand that.

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