Kansas school enrollment up in 2013

TOPEKA (AP) Preliminary enrollment figures released Tuesday show the number of Kansas students attending public schools grew by less than 1 percent this fall.

The raw figures disclosed by the Kansas Department of Education were based on the Sept. 20 enrollment count. The figures show there were nearly 460,000 full-time equivalent students attending Kansas public schools.

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of education, said the figure is different than the headcount enrollment, which counts actual students in attendance. However, students who are in kindergarten are counted as half-time students. Actual headcount figures won't be released until enrollment numbers are audited.

Legislators use the number of full-time equivalent students to base state funding, which is currently $3,838 for the 2013-14 school year. The state spends more than $3 billion in state aid to districts, not counting local and federal funding sources.

Dennis said the average budget per pupil in the smallest 5 percent of Kansas schools was about $15,700 per student, while the largest 5 percent of districts, primarily in urban areas of Wichita and Johnson County, averaged more than $10,500.

"The total dollars spent in the bottom enrollment districts with the high budget per pupil don't amount to a lot of the money. But the cost per student is higher based on enrollment," he said.

Legislators have recently said in discussions with State Board of Education members at the Statehouse that policymakers need to take a serious look at finding greater efficiencies within school districts, including ways to encourage consolidation of functions, from administration to purchasing.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, recently sent a 12-page memo to his GOP caucus offering talking points on education spending, taxes and jobs.

Merrick said providing a good education system doesn't mean just increasing spending.

"Schools can make budget cuts without cuts to services or teachers by consolidating," he wrote.

The department will spend the coming days auditing the enrollment figures, as well as finalizing data for individual school districts.

Dennis said the audited numbers also will be used to determine if the state will need to make a supplemental appropriation in the 2014 legislative session to ensure that each district receives the $3,838 per student allocation for the current school year. That was the figure that districts used for building their budgets this summer.