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RESOURCES

Kansas Legislature
Johnson County Election Office
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Communities of the
25th District

Fairway
Mission
Mission Hills
Mission Woods
Prairie Village
Roeland Park
Westwood
Westwood Hills

CONTACT MELISSA

In Topeka: 
State Capitol Room 352-A
Topeka, KS 66612
melissa.rooker@house.ks.gov
785-296-7686

At home in Fairway
4124 Brookridge Drive
Fairway, KS 66205
melissa@melissarooker.com
913-961-1555

Dear Daniel:

The past few weeks following the Gannon school finance decision have been incredibly busy. The workload in my committees has made corresponding with you more difficult than usual, but I know many of you are Shawnee Mission Post readers and you likely saw my Capitol Update article. I’ve been inundated by calls and emails, and am grateful for your strong support.

 


Thanks especially to KCUR for their invitation earlier in the week to be on this week's edition of Statehouse Blend: The Complicated Path To A Kansas School Funding Formula.

School Finance Formula
In the House, the K-12 Budget Committee has been working since January to gather background information and hold public hearings on a variety of school funding proposals. With the end of session drawing near, the Chairman introduced his version of a school finance plan earlier this week. HB 2410 was released on Wednesday and we have held two days of public hearings, with a third planned for Monday, all live-streamed for maximum transparency.

Chairman Larry Campbell (Olathe) has been guiding the process, along with the chairman of the House Education Committee Clay Aurand (Belleville) who also serves on the budget committee. We are to begin “working” through the “Chairman’s” bill on Tuesday. Major amendments are expected to address significant concerns raised to date in testimony from the community of education stakeholders.

The hearings have exposed trouble with HB 2410 when it comes to equity, a loss of local control and the reshuffling of existing resources to focus on the cohort of students falling behind. We absolutely need to ensure at risk students receive appropriate services. However, a plan that does not attempt to restore the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts made since 2009 will simply be “cannibalizing adequacy,” something the court anticipated and warned against – and about which Johnson County school districts are specifically concerned.

I am pleased a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is devoted to getting this right. We have been working together to prepare amendments to bring forward a plan that represents consensus and provides an appropriate remedy.

My goal has been unwavering – to provide a funding plan that increases investment across the board, maintains local control, and provides necessary resources to intervene where students are struggling. To that end, I joined an effort two years ago to craft a long-term solution, shortly after K-12 public education funds were unconstitutionally block granted under SB 7. Education stakeholder groups formed a task force to build a new finance formula, guided by the goals set forth in the Rose Capacities. This coalition task force was carefully formed to represent the varied characteristics of districts all around the state. I was among the lawmakers invited to join the discussion.

Our own Shawnee Mission School District was invited to be part of the coalition. The district sent representatives to sit in on meetings but declined to participate in meaningful ways to the project, choosing instead to lob criticism that fell far short of constructive. The result of the collaboration among all other districts was unprecedented agreement on a set of guiding principles of school finance reform.

The work of the task force formed the basis for HB 2270, but because I’m the one who serves in the elected body, I introduced the coalition plan on behalf of these education stakeholder organizations. The bill is not perfect, nor is it in final form, but it represents a compromise found by paying attention to the guidance of the courts, the roadmap provided by the Kansas Department of Education in terms of meeting the standards set by the Rose Capacities, and expectations of student success.

In turn, much of the content of HB 2270 was included in the chairman’s bill draft. Significant differences surrounding local taxing authority, early childhood programs, and the program weightings need to be resolved in the weeks ahead, but the basic structure of the plan is not in dispute. For Johnson County, the section of the chairman’s bill of initial concern is the treatment of the local taxing authority (LOB) which currently adds an extra 33% to our budget in Shawnee Mission. The coalition plan protects that taxing authority and our district’s ability to direct spending as we wish, but the chairman’s draft:

  • Breaks it into three parts,
  • Limits it to no more than a total of 29%,
  • Mandates spending in certain specific categories using our local dollars and
  • Removes spending flexibility which has been key to surviving the block grant era.

The coalition plan aligns with the Johnson County goals for early childhood programs and fully funded all-day kindergarten, while the chairman’s bill does not. Amendments to that effect will be proposed. Finally, the coalition plan infuses new dollars to ensure districts have the personnel, programs, infrastructure and training to implement the Kansans CAN vision developed by the Kansas Department of Education and our elected State Board of Education.

I grow weary of the voices advocating for a return to pre-1992 funding mechanisms. Their tired story is that heavy reliance on local property tax levies is the only way for Shawnee Mission and other Johnson County schools to truly excel. Yet so much has changed since that time – a combination of increases to the local property tax burden, a series of legal and legislative actions, rising poverty levels in Johnson County and record growth in population to name a few. Sticker-shock rippled through the county a few weeks ago when property tax levies for the upcoming tax year were mailed out. Even my husband complained about the rate of increase we saw in our own bill. To assume that local voters will always support property tax increases is a dangerous and short-sighted proposition.

Even within the borders of Johnson County, we see major differences in property wealth among our school districts. While a plan that harkens back to days of old sounds good from a certain vantage point, that jingoistic view ignores reality.

Three of our six Johnson County school districts weighed in and indicated the plan floated by Shawnee Mission would be trouble for them.

So which part of Johnson County matters more? Whose kids are more deserving of a quality education? Students in classrooms all around the state today will become the Johnson County workforce of tomorrow. We need a plan that ensures appropriate resources exist for every student to reach their full potential.

Kansas launched the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, so it should come as no surprise that the Kansas Supreme Court finds equity to be a crucial component of educating students. Equity was deemed important enough to earn additional consideration and a separate decision under Gannon. Those who seek unlimited local authority deny and ignore the state’s long and honored history of educational equality.

Here are some articles of interest:
If you have questions, comments or need help please contact me at 785-296-7686 or via email at Melissa@MelissaRooker.com. If you are in Topeka, please stop by my office in 352-S. It is my pleasure to serve.

Sincerely,

Rep. Melissa Rooker
Kansas State Representative, District 25
Serving Northeast Johnson County
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Melissa Rooker,