One of the greatest resources we have in this nation is access to a quality, public education. By teaching our children well, they can go out and improve the world, innovate and do things differently than they’ve been done before.
That’s why it was disappointing to see the Legislature resist a new and innovative solution, instead gravitating toward the same style of school finance plan that has mired our state in litigation for over a decade.
The Gannon case began in 2010 after the Legislature was unable to keep its promises, failing to fund its school finance plan in the wake of the 2008 recession. Now, here we are again — on the verge of what financial experts predict is another impending recession — attempting to resolve the litigation with another unsustainable plan.
Kids First Plan
Recognizing that the plan proposed by the governor and the Senate (Senate Bill 16) would repeat the mistakes of those who came before us, the House began conversations with school leaders and the governor about how to build a sustainable plan — one that would fully fund our schools, not just for a year or two, but for the long haul.
That solution, known as the Kids First Plan, would have:
▪ Followed the court’s directive to pay $126 million in inflation
▪ Recession-proofed the plan by escrowing $243 million so the state could meet its obligations to our schools in the event of an economic downturn.
▪ Added an estimated $17 million for early childhood programs, recognizing that investments in early childhood education are one of the most effective ways we can close the achievement gap identified by the court.
▪ Added $27 million to expand a children’s mental health pilot program that is seeing results in our schools by identifying young people in need and preventing teen suicide.
Unfortunately, a few days before the Legislature was set to adjourn, the governor backed away from negotiations on the Kids First Plan and opted instead to push for SB 16, the plan that was ultimately passed by the Legislature. It was a plan that the majority of House Republicans could not support.
Senate Bill 16
Senate Bill 16 contains an often-overlooked provision that commits taxpayers to an automatic annual inflation increase – not just during the life of this plan, but for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives. That means an estimated $100 million more will come due every year – funds that will have to come from our highways, mental health, foster care, our colleges, our nursing homes and other essential services. These areas of the budget will be made to suffer even more because of SB 16.
Make no mistake: This plan is a promise the governor and the Legislature cannot keep. According to the budget analysts, sustaining SB 16 relies on six assumptions: The Supreme Court rules in favor of funding not based in their opinion, taxes are raised, the food sales tax is not lowered, money continues to be swept from the highway fund, the state does not make its KPERS payments, and there is not a recession.
I’m not willing to take that gamble.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle care about public education, and are committed to ensuring that every kid has every opportunity to succeed. Our shared priority for funding our schools is evident in the fact that many of us — myself included — have voted for $3.13 billion in new funding over the past two years. The vote on SB 16 was not about who loves schools and who doesn’t. It was about whether we want to make promises we can keep.
As parents, we serve as role models for our kids. Repeating the mistakes of those who came before us is not the right example to set. As legislators, we have a responsibility to think beyond what is politically expedient in the short-term, and to be disciplined enough to form long-term, sustainable solutions that will carry our schools and our state forward. Senate Bill 16 is not the long-term, sustainable solution that our children and our teachers deserve. As Kansans, we can do better.
Ron Ryckman is speaker of Kansas House of Representatives