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Ellis, KS: "More children are qualifying for special education"; more funding needed

Apr 17, 2023, Hays (KS) Post: Gov. Kelly makes case for funding special ed during Ellis visit

ELLIS — Gov. Laura Kelly was at Ellis High School on Thursday to discuss the needs of rural public schools, including the need for more special education funding.

The Kansas Legislature has tied special education funding to a school voucher program that would divert money from public schools to private education.

Kansas law requires the state to pay 92 percent of what the federal government does not pay for special education.

The state is currently funding special education statewide at 72 percent of the cost beyond federal funding. This leaves local districts to pay for the shortfall from their general fund budgets.

"The current gap is $1 million, but that is with us making some tough decisions about not spending money as much as we should," Carlin said of the local co=op's budget. ... "We could be better if we were funded better."

Carlin said it is more difficult for smaller school districts to make up these budget deficits. Ellis is underfunded by $85,000, which would be the equivalent of a teacher and an aide, Carlin said. Ellis is facing budget cuts, which could include laying off teachers next year, because of declining enrollment.

Kelly put money in her beginning-of-the-year budget to phase in full funding for the state's portion of special education within five years.

She said the federal government also is not fully funding its portion of special education. The federal government is supposed to be funding 20 percent of special education costs and it is averaging about 12 percent, Carlin said.

John Befort, Ellis' Washington Elementary School principal, said more children, including his own son, are qualifying for special education. Those services often last through K-12 education.

Janice Wilson, left, Ellis superintendent; Gov. Laura Kelly, center; and Liam Crawford, right, Ellis High School senior, tour EHS on Thursday prior to an education roundtable with Gov. Kelly. Photo by Cristina Janney/Hays Post

Befort also expressed frustration after attending a recent legislative coffee about the lack of response on education from local legislators, none of whom joined the roundtable Thursday….

Travis Kohlrus, parent, said a housing addition was built about 20 years ago in Ellis. Initially, that resulted in increases in enrollment. The children of those families have aged out of the school system and enrollment is declining again.

Randy Honas, school board president, said the cost of infrastructure is huge for small communities….


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