This week the Kansas Governor’s office released the framework of a new school finance formula that “increases local control, transparency, accountability, breaks the cycle of litigation, and focuses more resources on the classroom.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? On the surface, we might all want to jump in line to support such a change. However, when you look at the details, it becomes readily apparent that the formula dramatically impacts a long-held value in Kansas: Every citizen (child) is entitled to a quality education.
In Kansas City, Kansas we have lost millions of dollars in state funding for our schools over the last four years, while our business costs continue to climb. We have faced cutting $63 million and as a result have eliminated 300 jobs, 130 of which were teaching positions. Our class sizes have increased, our resources have been depleted, and our ability to meet the needs of students has diminished. It’s been extremely difficult and a hardship on every student, every adult, and the entire community. I have been so proud of our school system as we have banded together to dig deep and make sacrifices to do whatever it takes to ensure our students are on-track and on-time for success. However, it’s taking a toll on all of us.
The proposed change in the way Kansas funds its public schools is likely to be extremely damaging to the futures of our children, as it moves the state responsibility for providing “suitable finance,” required by our state’s Constitution, to the local community. The “new modern formula,” as it has been described, reportedly will “provide districts with the resources and flexibility they need to help Kansas students meet today’s challenges, prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities, and excel in education.” Not true. All communities are not created equal when it comes to access to property and sales tax revenues. The so-called “modern formula” takes us back to the age of the haves and have-nots. It disturbs me greatly to think that our actions value the citizens and children of wealthy communities over those in less prosperous areas, both urban and rural.
The past few weeks, there have been many frustrated voices speaking out about our district’s compensation level for teachers. I share that frustration. When the state was providing adequate and equitable funding, which the legislators’ own studies identified as necessary for quality schools in Kansas, we were able to increase our compensation schedules to levels that allowed us to compete in the metropolitan area to hire and retain the best teachers. After four years of the legislature ignoring their commitments to our schools, and most importantly our children, teachers across the state and in KCK Public Schools are very frustrated and feel devalued. I understand. We should be compensating our teachers at levels equal to the extraordinary impact they have made to the futures of all of us. No one has more impact on the health and well-being of our community than our teachers. The best school systems in the world understand this, and pay their teachers like engineers and other highly-valued professionals.
Here in KCK, we haven’t been able to give raises in several years. This is frustrating for teachers, it’s frustrating for our nutritional service workers and our secretaries, and it’s frustrating for me as a leader, because I know I can’t pay our staff what they’re worth. I know that our staff is here because of the work, and because of their love of children, not because they’re going to get rich. We are blessed with an incredibly dedicated and passionate staff.
Unfortunately, we live in a state that seems to be moving toward a position that doesn’t value the education of the students who live in this community. The question for me is not “What will the legislature do?” We can’t control that. What I want to know is, what are we in this community willing to do? Are we willing to get involved in the conversation and decisions about how our schools are funded in Kansas? I plan to be there every day, fighting for our children, and for our staff. Will you help? Will you let your voices be heard? It’s Up to Us.