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Leiker calls out faulty explanation of education funding system

Staff writer

Lee Leiker just wanted to clear things up.

The USD 408 superintendent was aware of the narrative coming out of Topeka: Budget adjustments were actually allocating more money to fund schools.

He disagreed.

Given the chance to make his point directly to two state legislators Saturday, Leiker did. And they admitted he was right.

Representative John Barker and State Senator Richard Wilborn attended the Marion Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative coffee Saturday and had trouble answering questions pertaining to school funding.

Barker explained the state’s education budget, saying it gave an increase to public education funding; Leiker questioned that, and clarified that while technically more money is being put into schools, a significant portion of that money is allocated to Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, or KPERS, to pay for retiring teachers.

That money leaves the school’s budget before the school can spend it. So, Leiker said, the school districts will have less money to spend on students.

“When I clarified that with him, both he and Wilborn agreed that schools are getting less money,” Leiker said. “That’s certainly what I wanted patrons to understand.”

Both Barker and Wilborn recently voted in favor of a shake-up in the education funding formula that would replace the formula with block grant funding. Leiker said the district suffers because the block grant formula devalues weighted enrollment — which gives more aid based on things like transportation, special needs students, low-income or at-risk students, vocational enrollment.

“My concern is this block grant funding is a step toward eliminating those benefits,” he said.

Leiker added that his assessment is “a little bit of speculation,” but it’s a speculative stance he’s comfortable taking.

The block grant funding formula has been signed by the governor. Barring a stay issued by the state supreme court, the formula will go into effect. The funding would lock in for two years, preventing any future funding increases.

When Leiker asked legislators the reason for the overhaul, he was told that the current funding formula is too complicated.

“I don’t believe it’s too complicated,” Leiker said. “I believe I can sit down and explain the formula to someone. There are other things in legislature that are complicated that aren’t being revamped, so why is this happening with public education right now?”

In response to this, Leiker said Wilborn and Barker simply reaffirmed their stance that the formula was too complicated and needed to change.

Others in attendance were impressed with Leiker’s comments to the legislators, including County Commission Chairman Dan Holub.

“There was a classic,” he said. “They sat there and boldfaced lied, then they tried to defend it.

“He called them on it, and both of them just got this blank look.”

Former Centre school board member Marvin Peterson also thought Leiker represented schools well.

“I was very impressed with the way he was watching people’s backs on that,” Peterson said. “From what I heard of it, which was not the whole conversation, I thought he had his ducks in a row.”

Leiker said while he doesn’t expect the meeting to incite any action, it’s hopefully something they will consider going forward.

“If anything, our hope has to be that they’ll take our feelings and message back to their colleagues in Topeka,” he said.

Wilborn and Rep. Don Schroeder will be in Hillsboro for a legislative coffee 10 a.m. Saturday at the city building.

Last modified April 1, 2015

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