The following commentary was submitted by school superintendents John Allison, Wichita; John Burke, Haysville; Randal Chickadonz, Rose Hill; Mark A. Evans, Andover; Sue Givens, El Dorado; Justin Henry, Goddard; Jim Keller, Circle; Doug Powers, Maize; Brad Rahe, Mulvane; Mike Roth, Clearwater; Scott Springston, Valley Center; and Craig Wilford, Derby:
The Kansas Legislature’s approval of a tax-reduction bill that will plunge the state general fund into the red beginning in 2014 could critically damage public education in Kansas. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs H.B. 2117 into law, local school districts will need to start planning immediately for huge reductions in state aid.
This isn’t just a challenge for local school boards and school faculty. This is a challenge for our entire community.
Public education is the foundation of our local economy. It generates the quality workforce that is essential to our prosperity. Like any other structure, the foundation must be sustained to keep everything else in place. If the foundation is eroded, everything else starts to crumble.
Our options are very limited. If we want to maintain our current level of academic performance, we would have to replace the state dollars with local property taxes. That is an unacceptable alternative that would only mask the state’s failure to meet its constitutional responsibility to public education.
Our only other option is to force dramatic cuts on our current education model. That means larger class sizes, the loss of hundreds of jobs, and the elimination of all but the most critical educational programs. Sports, music, the arts and all other similar programs will be at risk.
The burden will be felt most by those who can least afford it. Economically challenged students will lose their only viable path to a productive life.
The maintenance of our current workforce is threatened by the growing retirement rate. Waves of employees are completing their professional work lives. Without a solid base of public education to prepare future workers, we stand at great risk of losing our competitive position nationally and globally.
In recent years, public education has focused on workforce development. Technical education has been strengthened. We are partnering with our Kansas Board of Regents institutions to create a new supply of engineers, a critical component of our community’s workforce.
The massive cuts that will be necessary under the bill sent to the governor will place all of those programs at risk and will negate all of our recent achievements.
State education budget cuts play out in the future of our children. The first casualty is a child’s opportunity for a productive life. The state is engaging in a high-stakes gamble, hoping that economic growth will fill in all of the budget holes.