A Funding Feeling
A comment made by our local State Representative regarding our school funding level, “…schools are sitting in a good financial position”, has caused us to ponder why then do we feel so financially constrained. Indeed, public education is a majority of the State’s budget expenditures, and the State has budgeted additional money for those expenditures. However…
Our State Constitution provides a lot of policy and direction for our State. There are only a few things for which funding is mandated. Public education is one of those few things. It is then no surprise why public education makes up a majority of the State’s budget. Our Founding Fathers knew the value of public education and the importance it has on the overall success of our State. Through different lawsuits against the State addressing the State’s public school funding responsibility, over 28 different judges have ruled the funding act is constitutional, under funded, and works if funded properly. The legislator’s own research team has produce multiple reports indicating that education should be funded at a higher level. It also appears there is nothing in the State Constitution that requires the use of State Revenue or potential revenue (tax credits) to be used to fund the private school enterprise. A child’s education should not be determined by who their parents are or where they decide to live.
There are also a few factors in the funding of public education that should be identified as a State. We are educating more children now than in the past. Educating more children will cost more money. We are educating more children with more severe handicaps than in the past. Educating more children with more severe special needs will cost more money. We are educating more children with English as their second language than in the past. Educating more children with language barriers will cost more money. We are educating more children from lower family income levels than in the past. Educating more children with poverty barriers will cost more money. We are educating more children at earlier ages than in the past. Educating more children through early childhood education will cost more money.
One of the areas where money has been added to “education” is in the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) to try and make the system solvent for those contributors planning to utilize the system. State employees put their money into a retirement system that is supported by State revenue. The administrators of the KPERS funds will tell you that this system was very financially sound at one point in time. That is when legislators began borrowing from these funds to fund other State projects, much like is happening now with the highway funds. Moneys now being added to the KPERS accounts are being added to make up for the required contributions the State choose not to make for years. This should not be a cost of “education” but a cost of poor legislative responsibility and decision-making.
For years, the State has chosen not to fund public education at the constitutionally required funding levels. This has caused many public schools to work with lower than required funding levels and for much of the State’s funding responsibility to be burdened by the local school’s taxpayers. Following the Court ruling that the State was not meeting their constitutional funding responsibility for public education, the State identified funding to help equalize public school funding across the State. Because the areas where these funds were provided have funding level caps, as the State level funding responsibility rose, the local taxpayer’s funding level responsibility decreased and the public school’s funding levels remained virtually unchanged. So, the State’s increase in funding levels to meet their constitutionally required public school funding did not result in an actual increase to funding levels of public schools.
It appears the conclusion is that increases in costs for public education accompanied by the past poor decisions not to adequately fund public education to constitutionally required levels has produced our reality of financial constraint.