Just when you think Kansas leaders may be making progress on education funding, the how-much-is-enough debate begins anew.
And this time it’s raising a legitimate question: Will some proponents of additional funding ever be satisfied?
Laura Kelly, a Democratic, pro-education governor who promised repeatedly to fully fund K-12 schools, has proposed $92 million in additional spending this year to cover inflation and end a years-long court battle over funding.
Representatives of the Kansas State Department of Education, the State Board of Education and the Kansas Association of School Boards — all of whom reside consistently in the more-money-for-schools camp — support the plan.
So who’s balking? The group suing the state for more school funding.
Schools for Fair Funding, which represents several Kansas districts, including Wichita and Kansas City, wants more.
The group says the state’s arithmetic doesn’t compute and eventually would shortchange funding by $270 million a year. In testimony filed Wednesday, the group called the plan “funny math” and said it “cannot support this bill in its current form.”
As with most things related to school finance, the problem is complicated.
The State Board of Education recommended an inflation adjustment of 1.4 percent, or about $90 million a year, to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court mandate for more funding.
John Robb, lead attorney for the school districts, says his group assumed the adjustment ultimately would increase annual school spending by $363 million a year — the size of the increase after four years if $90 million is added each year on top of the previous year’s increase.
And here we are again, more than midway through another legislative session, heading into what likely will be prolonged debates and another court decision over funding for public schools.
This doesn’t look good. If the pro-schools contingent in Kansas can’t agree on how much money is enough, opponents of additional funding could point to the chaos as evidence that it’s all a crapshoot.
“I agree the optics are terrible,” Robb said Wednesday. “But I can’t look the other way on $270 million for schools because the optics might look bad.”
If looking the other way isn’t an option, perhaps proponents could at least decide on a goal — even a short-term one — and steer toward it together.
Additional money for schools is a win — legally, politically, and most importantly, educationally. And while neither side may get everything it wants, politics is compromise.