The state of Kansas is attempting to decide how best to be sure at-risk kids get the additional school funding they need to succeed.

“What Kansas has done for almost 30 years now is, we give districts an extra amount of money that has to be directed at at-risk students based on how many low income kids they have,” said Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards. “We measure low-income by whether or not you’re eligible for free lunch.”

That data has to be gathered anyway for the lunch program’s purposes, so it doesn’t create additional work for the school districts and buildings. Although school districts receive this funding based on student counts, districts can use at-risk funds to provide services to any student the district has deemed to be at-risk.

“If it’s accountability, it’s good,” said Tallman. “If it’s paperwork, it’s bad. The problem is, it’s very hard to have accountability without paperwork and administration. That’s just the tension you have to try to balance.”

If you could get granular about it, that might not be best in the long run.

“If you get money to help these kids and you help them, then you don’t get the money any more,” said Tallman. “You might say well, that’s fine, you’ve helped them, but what we know is there’s always a
new group of kids coming in. The one great advantage of the current system is, it gives districts that we know have a higher number of kids who have these challenges a little more stable funding. You don’t have to have a child fail before you get money to help them.”

Funding through at-risk weighting is the one of the largest components of the school finance formula. Last year, it amounted to over $400 million.