After heated debate, Kansas lawmakers reached an agreement in the final hours of the legislative session. I supported parts of this agreement enthusiastically.
The core of the bill was very similar to a proposal I offered, adding nearly $130 million to schools out of surplus revenues. Previous attempts to cut other areas of education were, for the most part, abandoned.
However, despite the pleas of parents and educators, legislative leaders refused to enact a clean, straightforward funding bill. They insisted on “strings attached,” tying unpopular, partisan policy changes to essential dollars for our classrooms.
These policies included offering corporate income-tax credits for private school scholarships, easing teacher-licensure requirements and eliminating due process for Kansas teachers.
What started as a fairly simple, bipartisan bill with more than 90 House votes morphed into a hyper-partisan ploy that garnered the bare minimum votes required to pass. I voted “no,” as did every other Democrat and moderate Republican.
It is also critical to remember that the question regarding overall school funding still looms. Kansans should be alarmed by a subtle but significant policy change that was quietly included in the final education bill. It lowers the minimum amount of funding required per pupil by more than $650 – from $4,492 to $3,838.
Make no mistake: This is a pre-emptive effort by Gov. Sam Brownback to sidestep future court orders to properly fund our schools.
The education cuts made in recent years have real consequences, including larger class sizes, closed schools, lower test scores and increased fees on parents.
Our teachers are trying to prepare our kids to be successful in a 21st-century economy with 1992-level base state funding. This does not reflect our Kansas values.
This really comes down to priorities. Schools are my priority – strong schools are the very foundation of a stronger economy. The opportunities our kids are provided in our public schools will affect their future opportunities and the future of our state economy.
I am concerned about the Kansas children who began kindergarten when the economy crashed. Those kids are now halfway through their K-12 years, and have experienced severe budget cuts. These kids have one shot at learning and growing in their formative years.
And, despite Brownback’s praise for the education bill, our commitment to those children has not yet been restored.