A math interventionist works with students who need extra help at Faxon Elementary School. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect education funding and needs, Kansas City Public Schools has set aside money for additional academic support in its fiscal year 2023 budget.
A math interventionist works with students who need extra help at Faxon Elementary School. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect education funding and needs, Kansas City Public Schools has set aside money for additional academic support in its fiscal year 2023 budget. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Bolstered by COVID-19 pandemic federal relief funds, Kansas City Public Schools is expecting to receive more than $325.5 million for fiscal year 2023, an increase of nearly $11 million — or 3% — from the current year. 

That total doesn’t yet include a potential increase in state funding, which could be imminent if Gov. Mike Parson approves a change to state law regarding charter school funding which the legislature passed in May.

For Kansas City students, this boon could mean better air filtration in buildings, more mental health services and a more reliable substitute teacher system.

The unusually large amount of revenue doesn’t change the process of creating the budget, said Erin Thompson, executive director of business and finance for KCPS. “It just takes us longer to set the priorities.” 

Thompson said priorities this year were driven by the academic division, which pushed to have reading and math interventionists in each building to help struggling students and raise test scores. 

Community and board input also encouraged the district to set aside more than $2 million to support students’ mental health, Thompson said.

These priorities all fall under pandemic-related needs, which can be covered by the latest round of federal relief funding, totaling more than $64 million for KCPS. The state legislature approved releasing the funds earlier this year about a month before the deadline

The district has opted to divide that sum between the next two school years.

Thompson said the district hopes to continue some of the additional support even when the relief funding runs out. To make that happen, it’s relying on the Blueprint 2030 long-term plan, which aims to make the district more efficient by consolidating some schools. 

“Within two years, if you close facilities, we’ll have savings from closings to continue on what we have in our ESSER (federal relief funding) budget,” Thompson said. “That’s the plan.”

How the KCPS budget process works 

In January, the KCPS budget team began to estimate revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. By February, the research department made enrollment predictions to help with planning. 

In the following months, school and department leaders submitted information on their funding requests and savings plans, and various district leaders met to review priorities and school plans. The budget department also updated its predictions. 

In early May, the school board held a workshop on budget priorities and planning, and the Missouri legislature finalized the state education budget. 

The district held a public hearing on the budget May 11 to get community input. In late May, Thompson presented the budget document to the board, incorporating earlier feedback. 

Thompson said the budget presented to the board is unlikely to change before it is finalized June 22. 

“Whenever you change something in a budget, it’s a big transaction to try to change all the documents to tie back to what you presented to the public,” Thompson said. “So we’re sticking to the last presentation that I did at the last board meeting (May 25).”

Instead, any changes — such as when funding from the state becomes more certain — will be incorporated into future budget amendments, scheduled for next February and June. 

Where does KCPS’ revenue come from? 

Despite the increase in federal funds, KCPS still expects to receive the bulk of its funding — about 70% — from local sources. Another 2% comes from Jackson County. 

Property taxes are the main source of local revenue. Because payments mostly come in during the first months of the calendar year, the district begins the school year in the fall using reserve funding to pay its bills, Thompson said. 

KCPS lists state funding as negative and counts it as 0% of its budget in Thompson’s presentation.

Recent district budgets, which are more detailed than the preliminary presentation Thompson gave, show the district is allocated several million dollars from the state, especially for school transportation and early childhood special education. 

But the way the state handles funding for charter schools — independent schools that are publicly funded and free to attend but not part of KCPS — has pushed the overall state contribution into the red. 

Thompson said that’s because local funds for charter schools flow through the state, causing the state to deduct that amount from what it owes to KCPS. 

Charter schools enroll approximately half of the public school students within KCPS boundaries, but proponents have argued that a “glitch” in the state funding mechanism means they don’t receive as much funding per student as traditional public schools. To make up for the discrepancy, KCPS voluntarily gives additional funding to charter schools. 

But a legislative proposal this year would give additional money to charter schools without taking it away from school districts. If it’s signed into law by Parson, KCPS estimates its fiscal year 2023 budget could grow by more than $14 million. 

The legislature also fully funded school district transportation costs this upcoming school year, which it hasn’t recently done. 

Finally, KCPS expects to receive 28% of its budget from federal sources this year, including federal relief funding and Title I funding given to schools based on how many low-income students they serve. 

How KCPS plans to spend the money 

Compared to the 2021-22 school year, KCPS plans to spend less on instruction and community services and more on facilities and support services. 

But instruction still tops the list of expense categories — about 43% of the nearly $333 million expenditure plan, which includes capital projects. The district also plans to add 12 full time equivalent positions in the instruction category. 

Support services are a close second, covering 42% of the budget. The broad category includes expenses like counselors, nurses and therapists as well as some administrative departments, building upkeep, student transportation and food services. 

KCPS also plans to spend 9% of its budget on facilities acquisition and construction, 4% on community services such as early childhood education and parental involvement, and 2% on debt. 

The district is planning to use the more than $64 million in federal relief funds for several purposes. 

Over the next two years, the district plans to put more than $6 million dollars toward hiring substitute teachers to be stationed in specific schools. The state has been facing a substitute teacher shortage that makes it hard to fill in for teachers who are sick or quarantined. 

The funding will also pay for more teachers to reduce class sizes, academic support staff like reading and math interventionists, and technology for students. 

Over the upcoming two school years, $30 million will be devoted to HVAC and air quality improvements. 

Thompson said the budget team also set aside $2.4 million for mental health and is awaiting instructions for how best to spend it. 

Thompson said that one challenge of implementing the budget will be finding people to fill all the roles the district has planned for, especially math, science and special education teachers.

Another challenge is finding a way to fund building projects in the district, especially as some grants can’t be used for that purpose. 

The district needs hundreds of millions of dollars of maintenance to keep buildings functioning and improve students’ learning. But it hasn’t gotten voters to pass a general obligation bond — a common way to fund such projects — since the 1960s. 

“We’re undergoing an audit right now of our air quality and HVAC systems, and the first initial findings are we need almost $100 million to cover all our schools,” Thompson said. “We have an ESSER (federal relief funds) budget of $30 million, so now we have to prioritize how we’re going to use those funds on that project.”

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.