The Garden City Telegram
1/18/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

School daze

Western Kansas districts must prepare for setback.

Gov. Sam Brownback devoted a good part of his recent State of the State address to education.

In many states, that would be expected and appreciated.

But in Kansas, we have cause to wonder how the sitting governor could use education as a cornerstone for any plan.

In his speech, Brownback mentioned the quest for "world-class education" in Kansas. But during his time in office, he presided over the largest overall cut in public education funding in the state's history.

The governor also talked about "strategic" investments in Kansas universities, even though the recent funding cuts also targeted higher education.

And now, we're left to see how a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance would affect K-12 public schools and their communities.

In 2013, a lower court said the Kansas Legislature failed to meet its K-12 school funding duty under the Kansas Constitution, and called for a boost in annual aid by at least $440 million to meet the constitutional responsibility to provide a suitable education for every child.

The court rightly challenged claims that the recession made state funding cuts to K-12 schools necessary, especially as the governor and his ultraconservative Republican allies declared Kansas able to afford huge income-tax cuts that will cost the state significant revenue.

If the high court upholds the decision, lawmakers could restore needed funding by altering or repealing the controversial tax cuts.

Instead, we would expect the ultraconservative faction in charge to defy the courts, and eventually shift more of the financial burden for schools to local communities.

We also heard Brownback challenge the courts' involvement, and argue that Kansas devotes a higher portion of its state budget to education than most states. But, he failed to mention how other states rely far more on local contributions to fund public schools.

Such a model would be great for more affluent eastern Kansas communities, but a disaster in smaller, rural districts in western Kansas.

Unfortunately, we would face the prospect of some combination of job losses or higher taxes on the local level to support our schools, with this side of the state getting shortchanged once again.