Opinion Columns & Blogs

Schools struggle with unfunded mandates

USD 259 is not greedy (March 4 Letter to the Editor). The school district joined other districts in an attempt to hold the Legislature accountable for passing mandates without funding the additional costs of those mandates.

Many of these mandates create more costs per pupil for Wichita and other school districts because of demographics. One example is the mandate for English as a second language, which hits districts such as Dodge City, Garden City and Wichita (and many others). The cost of this mandate is not fully funded.

Unfunded mandates are a sleazy means that legislators have used for decades. While appeasing the public lobbying for the mandate, the legislator as politician can campaign on an "I'm against raising taxes" platform. The shoe fits both parties.

The legal action by the districts makes the point: Fund what you require.

Most of the unfunded mandates have merit; the issue is that the additional costs are not fully funded. Here are a few examples:

* Special education statutes. These come from both the federal and state governments and require specific services for all exceptional children in the district. Kansas laws specify procedures and timelines with accompanying targets. Consider the demographics of Wichita, which is a major source of educational, medical and social services and draws a large percentage of children with disabilities.

* Programs for at-risk students.

* District and state testing of students. Ninety-five percent of the students must take the tests, and 100 percent of the targeted goals must be met by 2014. Again, consider the demographics of Wichita.

* Staff development.

Again, these are good mandates. But these mandates and the many others mean additional direct costs and indirect costs, and they require the time and expertise of teachers and administrators. This is especially so for Wichita and the other districts participating in the action against the Legislature.

The Legislature has refused to find the funds as ordered by the courts. We must use the available means, in addition to the election process, to hold the government accountable for irresponsible actions — such as unfunded mandates.

USD 259 is not only right to sue the Legislature, but it has the obligation to do so. We should support our school board.

Contact your board members and tell them, "Go after the state." Tell your representatives in the Legislature to fund what schools require. Tell them to find funds now. Tell them you are a voter who will vote. Tell them of the services you want and that you want them funded.