Top state Republicans are now admitting that school districts have experienced large funding cuts, instead of pretending that the cuts never happened. That’s progress.
The Kansas Democratic Party sent out mailings claiming that Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP conservatives presided over “the largest cut to school funding in Kansas history.” In response, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, and the governor held separate news conferences last week correctly pointing out that the state cut more education funding when Brownback’s immediate predecessor, Democrat Mark Parkinson, was governor.
Rhoades had a chart showing that Parkinson cut $388 from the base state aid per pupil. That’s a lot more than the $232 per-pupil cut that Brownback and the Legislature made in 2011.
Democrats responded that the allotment cuts made by Parkinson were forced by the global financial crisis. In contrast, Brownback and GOP lawmakers made a deliberate choice this past legislative session to cut taxes rather than reverse more of the funding cuts.
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But what’s significant is not who cut the most but that both Republicans and Democrats are now acknowledging that education funding has been cut. That’s new.
Brownback and some other Republicans have tried to dismiss concerns about education funding by arguing that spending has actually increased (Brownback repeated this during his press conference). But that’s true only if you include additional money for capital improvements and teacher pensions.
Though that spending is important and appreciated, it’s the base state aid that covers most of the operating costs of schools. And the sharp drop in this aid is why school districts have reduced staff, eliminated programs and, in the case of Wichita, closed some schools.
To their credit, Brownback and the Legislature added $58 to the per-pupil base this year and added more special education money last year. But the base aid remains $562 per pupil lower than it was in 2008-09.
Still, at least both sides now agree that schools have taken a big hit – even if they can’t agree who is to blame.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee
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