Kansas Senate kills ‘voodoo math’ education bill

The legislators squashed a school finance bill that public school advocates warned would be disastrous for special education funding.


State News

April 5, 2024 - 2:55 PM

Kansas Senators voted late Thursday against a wide-ranging public school finance bill. Photo by Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Kansas senators killed a school finance bill that would have guided state education funding for the next three years, heeding warnings from public schools advocates that the bill’s special education provision could have proven disastrous.

Senate Bill 387 allocated billions for K-12 schools, but also came with a provision that public school advocates warned would “permanently underfund K-12 schools.” 

The bill would have overhauled the state’s special education funding formula, using local dollars as part of the calculation. Public education advocates, including the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Educators Association, spoke against the proposed formula, calling it one that would mask a lack of state funding for special education. In a joint statement, the groups said the calculation was a “series of accounting gimmicks.”

Rep. David Younger

“That’s not new money,” said Rep. David Younger, a Ulysses Republican, in Thursday opposition to the bill. “That’s money that’s coming in that’s supposed to be there. Counting local option budget money is not new money. That’s local money. And I stand by my claim that this is voodoo math.” 

The special education formula currently factors in costs of providing services, costs of regular education and federal aid to determine each district’s state special education aid. The proposed formula would have used factors such as Medicaid and state hospital funding, along with district-level budgets to determine special education aid.

Others warned the state cannot afford to further underfund special education. Money for special education goes toward educational needs for gifted and disabled students in Kansas public schools. 

Statute dictates that state funding cover 92% of the extra cost of providing services to K-12 special education students statewide, but the state hasn’t met this requirement since 2011. The state currently covers around 69% of expenditures by local school districts. 

Kansas schools are left to shoulder the other costs — a task that has become increasingly difficult as the number of Kansas students utilizing special ed services continues to rise. Approximately 18% of Kansas students used special ed services in the 2022-2023 school year.

Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican tasked with crafting education policy, pushed back on these claims. Williams is well-known for promoting private school vouchers, arguing that some children need religion before math. 

“It is the responsible answer,”  Williams said of SB387. “It is the transparent and accountable answer in the changes that we’ve made, in the accountability that we have included. 

Sen. Chase Blasi

In a late night Thursday vote, Senators voted 12-26 against the bill, hours after House lawmakers narrowly passed the bill with a 65-58 vote.

Sen. Chase Blasi, a Wichita Republican, said he couldn’t support the bill due to hometown opposition. 

“I cannot support major changes to K-12 finance, while there’s universal opposition back home,” Blasi said.

The Legislature is expected to adjourn after Friday for three weeks, adding a sense of urgency as lawmakers scramble to approve policy before the break. If no new education bill arises by Friday night, lawmakers will adjourn without an education budget blueprint in place.