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Kansas Considers Tightening Rules For Some School District Aid

Stephen Koranda

A bill before a Kansas House committee would allow the state to deny financial assistance for some school district building projects.

Under the current system, school districts issue bonds for improvement projects and the state helps pick up the tab. The proposal would create a state board that would determine if school district building projects are directly related to instruction. If they aren’t, the board can cut back or eliminate state support.

Republican Rep. John Bradford says right now the state doesn't get to take into account whether building projects are directly related to teaching students.

“It’s like me having five children and giving each one of them a credit card and saying, ‘Go spend as much as you want. Don’t worry, Daddy will balance the checkbook at the end of the month,’ and I set no controls on what you can and cannot do,” Bradford says.

Some supporters of the bill say too much money in Kansas might be going to sports complexes, larger buildings or things that aren’t directly related to teaching students.

Walt Chappell, a former member of the State Board of Education, says there needs to be more distinction between a school district’s wants and needs.

“We are spending tremendous amounts of money without getting any result in terms of improved instruction,” Chappell says.

Brian Koon argued against the bill for the group Kansas Families for Education. He says this is an issue of local control.

“In short, local school boards are a better place to determine what is needed at the local level, not a distant regulatory board populated by people who may have never set foot within the county,” Koon says.

Galena school district Superintendent Brian Smith says cutting back funding for some facilities would create more inequality between districts.

“It’s the responsibility under the Constitution for the state to educate all children equally. What we’d create is the great divide between those who have and those who don’t,” Smith says.

Smith says students do learn skills from activities like sports and band that aren’t direct classroom instruction.