Monday, August 25, 2014

Yes, Kansas Education is in Trouble

Many numbers about Kansas public education finance are flying. It can all seem confusing and complicated.

But don’t let the thick flock of numbers obscure two simple truths about our situation:

     1) Kansas classrooms have been hurt.
     2) Under current policies, the future will be worse. 

If you want to dig deeper into what’s happened with school finance, carefully read Mark Tallman’s excellent blog post: "Facts about Kansas school funding: up, down or flat?" 

Tallman — Associate Executive Director of the Kansas Association of School Boards — helps readers understand how the various components of school finance add up. The key chart from his post is shown below.

School district funding that can be used for classrooms and educational programs has been declining. At the same time, the total number of students statewide has been going up, leading to increased classroom sizes and diminished educational opportunities for each child.

The trend in the chart corresponds to the per pupil funding decline in the Kansas school finance formula from $4,400 per pupil six years ago to $3,852 this school year — and the reduction in state appropriations for General State Aid from $2.175 billion in FY 2009 to $2.030 billion in FY 2015.

That brings us back to the two simple truths:

1) Kansas classrooms have been hurt. The governor and a slim majority of legislators have chosen a path that has reduced the resources going to classrooms.

School districts have received new dollars to cover costs of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, for building construction, and for federal food assistance — all funding that Kansas lawmakers have little choice over, and funding that does not pay for classroom operations.

Some like to add all of that up and say, “See, school districts have plenty.” But that’s a cover-up for what is happening at the heart of the system, and an attempt to make us look away from the real issue.

2) Under current policies, the future will be worse. The Kansas revenue stream has been cut so severely that it does not even cover school finance at present levels, let alone allow for classroom growth. The state’s bank balance is being drawn down to pay expenses that are hundreds of millions above income. 

But the bank balance will soon be gone. Spending in the current FY 2015 state budget needs to be cut back. Even greater spending reductions will be required to balance the budget in the next fiscal year as additional income tax rate reductions kick in. The budget situation has the state hamstrung.

In truth, Kansans, we have a growing problem right at the heart of our education system.

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