Eagle editorial: Explain cuts to students

Before legislators try to amend the state’s constitution so that they don’t have to suitably fund public education, they should read the article that appeared in the Sunday Eagle about the record number of homeless children in Wichita public schools. Or better yet, visit with some of them.

Not only are schools dealing with additional educational challenges, they also are helping meet physical needs of these children – with teachers often paying for supplies and other assistance out of their own pockets.

Lawmakers are squawking that a three-judge panel ruled last week that state funding of schools is unconstitutionally low. Rather than abide by the ruling – and by a 2006 agreement to increase funding – some conservative Republicans want to change the constitution.

But while lawmakers are plotting ways to avoid their responsibilities, 1,829 Wichita students are just trying to get by.

That’s the number of children, as of Jan. 11, who were either living on the street, in shelters or with other families. It’s nearly 100 more than last year’s record.

Put in another way, if these 1,829 children constituted their own district, it would be larger than 233 of the state’s school districts.

But this isn’t just a Wichita or urban problem. Statewide, there were 8,911 homeless children in Kansas public schools last year. Haysville, for example, reported having 200 homeless children.

These children face many obstacles. They tend to be emotionally unsettled, and many are hungry and may lack adequate clothing.

Dedicated teachers try to give the students attention and emotional support. Many teachers and school social workers also help provide students with other assistance, such as winter coats or eyeglasses.

One parent told The Eagle how teachers at Linwood Elementary School gave her family supplies when they were homeless and helped them find places to live. “They kept us from having to live on the streets, sleeping in our car,” she said.

Districts face many challenges in addition to the rising numbers of homeless students, including more low-income students, more students who speak other languages, and rising federal achievement standards.

Meanwhile, the state has dramatically cut base funding per pupil in recent years. The Kansas Center for Economic Growth, a new think tank, reported that Kansas has cut more funding per pupil since 2008 than all but seven states.

Some of those cuts were forced by the economic downturn. But as the Shawnee County District Court noted last week, the Legislature also chose to pass a massive income-tax cut.

Now that the court is holding the Legislature accountable, some lawmakers want to change the rules.

Explain that to students who don’t know where they will sleep tonight.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee