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Here’s Hoping We’re Not in Kansas Any More!

April 7, 2016

The Wichita Eagle editors rightfully excoriate the Kansas legislature’s recently introduced school funding bill that features vouchers that parents can use for private, religious, and home schools that are not required to follow state regulations or be held accountable based on the assessments required in public education. In an editorial with the understated headline “Finance bill could weaken public schools“, the editorial board outlines the worst aspects of the proposed legislation:

The 95-page bill also raises many questions about the equity and adequacy of state funding for districts. Elements in the formula would factor in extra costs of teaching low-income students and non-English speakers, as well as those faced by the smallest districts. And there is new authority for districts to raise taxes locally.

But what would be the impact of the confusing prohibition of the use of state aid for anything but “education services,” requiring districts to find other ways to cover extracurricular activities, food service and more? The bill also calls for a uniform, high-deductible health plan for school employees; targets districts’ cash balances; and includes language meant to make future legal challenges to state school funding more difficult.

The “questions about equity and adequacy” are answered in the last sentence of the paragraph: affluent districts will raise more money, their per pupil spending will increase markedly, and inequities will increase.
The impact of the requirement that “districts find other ways to cover extracurricular activities, food service and more” is also easy to forecast: wealthy districts will have rich and varied opportunities and tasty and nutritious meals for children attending their schools while poor districts will have no extracurriculars and pre-cooked boilerplate meals.
The last paragraph is undoubtedly the most important one for Kansas legislators who are at loggerheads with their Supreme Court who want them to provide all children in the state with their constitutionally required opportunities for learning. The KS governor has lobbied to unseat the Supreme Court and to amend the constitution so that the offending phrase requiring equity can be removed. Failing that, the legislature can arguably pass a bill that makes the process for challenging school funding more cumbersome. If nothing else, challenging that bill in court will take time and money and during that time this new lowball funding will be put in place.
What is happening in Kansas is lamentable… but it mirrors what is happening across the nation in subtler fashion: “failing” public schools are being replaced with deregulated charter schools whose costs are substantially lower, whose governance is opaque, and whose finances are not subject to the same rules as public education. Here’s hoping public schools are not headed for Kansas’ fate!
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