A hiring freeze for Wichita schools? Kansas Senate action could spare USD 259

A bill would change how schools request funds from state taxpayers. The original version of the bill could have cost fast-growing or fast-shrinking school districts some state aid.

by Blaise Mesa


  • A sudden switch to a new funding system would have hurt hiring at Wichita Schools.
  • The new funding model gives more money to growing districts.
  • Lawmakers amended the bill and alleviated concerns of the Wichita school district.  

Kansas lawmakers amended a bill Monday to prevent a possible hiring freeze at the Wichita school district. 

The bill adjusts how schools get funding. Current state law allows districts to use enrollment numbers from either of the past two academic years. Schools take the higher number because more students mean more state tax dollars. 

The proposed system requires schools to use enrollment form the current year or past year, giving districts fewer options. 

Think of a district that is growing rapidly. It has more students and needs more teachers and staff, but it has to use older enrollment numbers when trying to claw away its portion of state education funds. The new funding model is more responsive, lawmakers say. 

“When you have a loss of enrollment, you will have a reduction in funding because the students aren’t in the seats,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican. 

The bill originally made the funding switch immediately, which would hurt shrinking districts like Wichita’s USD 259. The district was already deep into its hiring process. Suddenly switching to a funding model that took money from the school system could have meant hiring freezes or revoking job offers. 

But lawmakers changed the bill to allow a more gradual switch to the new funding model. It allows districts to use the old funding system for one more year. The slower switch to the proposed funding plan gives school districts additional years to prepare for possible cuts. 

Susan Willis, CFO for Wichita Public Schools, said the district isn’t expecting a hiring freeze for the upcoming school year now that the bill’s been altered. 

Sen. Mary Ware, a Wichita Democrat, said the amendment made the bill better, but she’s still concerned about the new funding model. Wichita schools have a funding shortfall — a $42 million deficit — and the bill takes even more money away from the school system. 

“The Wichita 259 School District is the largest in the state,” she said. “And it’s my district. It’s my hometown. I couldn’t vote against my hometown.” 

Ware would have preferred a slower transition to the new funding model for “at least a few years. Permanently wouldn’t hurt.” She’s also concerned about teacher contracts. 

Wichita schools negotiate teacher contracts on a two-year basis. Ware said negotiating these deals when funding isn’t clear won’t be easy. 

The bill passed the Kansas Senate 33-6. It still must pass through the Kansas House before heading to the governor’s desk. 

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Beacon