One of the nation’s leading authorities on school finance discusses the history of funding Kansas schools and the pros and cons of the current block grant formula during an interview for the College of Education’s Web series, “EduCATion Today.”
David C. Thompson, College of Education professor, chair of the department of educational leadership and author of multiple textbooks on school finance, served as a teacher, principal, and school superintendent before entering higher education. He has spent more than 40 years in public education and in 2013 was awarded the National Education Finance Conference’s lifetime achievement award. Thompson’s books are used in more than 200 universities in America.
Topics ranged from the state’s school finance formula in the 1960s through today’s block grant formula instituted in 2016, defining “extracurricular activities,” a four-day school week, why he believes education is the best investment in children, and much more.
Early in the interview, Thompson discussed the ripple effects of budget cuts and the impact on school districts and what they can offer students.
“I’ve been a proponent for a lot of years that says extracurricular is one of those words that ought to be banned from the language,” Thompson said. “The reason is that I don’t regard anything as ‘extra’ in what schools do. I call it co-curricular. That includes school buses; it includes social workers; it includes counselors; it includes administration; it includes one of my favorites, food service. Who would argue that children who come to school hungry are ready to learn?”
He explained the new block funding formula essentially takes a snapshot of the good and bad parts of a budget and makes no exceptions for changing demographics.
“They (block grants) freeze things in time,” Thompson said. “Block grants ignore things of the future. They’re touted as being high levels of flexibility at the local school district level, but my honest professional opinion is in the most part if you were to go to lots of school districts in Kansas and ask the question, ‘How much have you gained from it?’ [the answer] is ‘I’m too busy trying to cover unfunded expenses to worry too much about any imaginary flexibility I’ve received.’”
In short, the school finance expert believes block grants are a funding formula from the past.
Thompson said he is encouraged by current conversations in the Kansas Legislature, and hopes for the best. The full interview can be seen at “EduCATion Today.”