It has often been noted that Kansas doesn’t have mountains or an ocean coastline, but what Kansas does have are strong public schools. And our quality schools didn’t happen by accident.
Generations of Kansans have committed their work and taxes to funding schools, knowing that education was an investment; a crucial factor to help their children lead successful and rewarding lives.
A quality public school education will be even more important in the future. A high school diploma plus post-secondary training will be required for most jobs to earn a middle-class salary. This is why the current debate over school funding is so important.
Over the past several decades, the education level of Kansas students has steadily increased as the investment trend in public school funding in Kansas grew slightly more than the rate of inflation.
But that funding trend stopped in 2009 and so did that trend of improving student achievement.
Since 2009, total funding per pupil has fallen more than $700 million behind inflation through 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, average teacher salaries when adjusted for inflation decreased nearly 8 percent. Kansans are investing a lower percentage of personal income in K-12 education than they have for more than 25 years.
Not surprisingly, Kansas student achievement is struggling. State assessment scores, which had been rising through 2012, are now falling. Reductions have also been seen in national assessments and the ACT.
The Kansas Supreme Court recently concluded the current school finance system isn’t adequate for our students as is required by the Kansas Constitution. The court said we need to do better.
We at the Kansas Association of School Boards agree.
Here’s why: Previous cost studies, analyses of Kansas funding trends and comparisons with other states, show that Kansas public schools are underfunded by many hundreds of millions of dollars. By the way, certain groups who oppose public schools say Kansas schools spend too much and achieve too little. Just the opposite is true. Kansas ranks 10th in the nation across a wide spectrum of student measures and spends 31st in per pupil funding. Every state that ranks ahead of Kansas in achievement spends more.
But aside from that, we know that educational achievement is key to increasing personal income, reducing poverty and reducing the cost of social services. As the Legislature works on school funding, we encourage all Kansans to stay abreast of developments on this issue and to seek out information from their local school board members.
Kansas is trying to climb out of a deep hole caused by the Great Recession and tax changes that drastically reduced revenue available for the functions of government that Kansans need.
During the last legislative session, a majority of legislators made the courageous decision to reverse those harmful tax policies. We applaud them for doing that. More tough policy decisions will be necessary during the 2018 legislative session.
But Kansans are accustomed to making difficult choices. Just as past generations invested in our education, we owe it to the children currently in school and future generations to adequately fund public schools. It is an investment in ourselves and in Kansas.
Dayna Miller is president of the Kansas Association of School Boards and president of the Basehor-Linwood school district board of education.