The Garden City Telegram
9/28/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

School cuts

State stays on wrong path regarding education funds.

Kansas recently found itself on the wrong end of a national ranking.

Sadly, the unfortunate distinction focused on support for education. Or, more accurately, an unacceptable lack of adequate support.

According to a study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., Kansas cut funding to K-12 public schools more than all but two states since the recession of 2007-08. Only Alabama and Wisconsin reportedly cut more funding per pupil during that time.

Percentage-wise, Kansas lawmakers slashed education spending some 16.5 percent since 2008. Only three states cut more by percentage: Oklahoma, 22.8 percent; Alabama, 20.1 percent; and Arizona, 17.2 percent.

In Kansas, a state where the governor and his allies claim to be interested in job growth and economic development, it's difficult to see how undermining support for public schools would help accomplish those goals.

On the other hand, a Legislature controlled by ultraconservative Republicans had no problem shifting more of the burden of financial support for schools to local communities — a particularly troublesome prospect in smaller, rural districts.

The foolhardy handling of school finance also brought costly litigation.

Earlier this year, a court ruling said the Legislature failed to meet its K-12 school funding duty under the Kansas Constitution, and called for the state to boost annual aid to public schools by at least $440 million to meet its constitutional responsibility to provide a suitable education for every child.

In its ruling, the court understandably challenged claims that the recession made state funding cuts to schools necessary in Kansas, especially as ultraconservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers in his camp declared the state able to afford huge income-tax cuts that would reduce income.

Meanwhile, other states managed to step up their support for K-12 schools once the economy started to rebound. Not Kansas.

Rather than acknowledge the constitutional obligation regarding school funding, Brownback has worked to change court involvement in the process.

Such is the sad state of affairs for the Sunflower State. When it comes to education funding, the question is how far backward the state must go before Kansans demand change.