Some will recall the famous talk radio personality Paul Harvey. Mr. Harvey was known to be a conservative, but nonetheless, through his reporting, he reached people from all perspectives. He had the uncanny ability to tell stories that narrated history and questioned our present circumstances, to which all generations could seemingly relate.
I wonder how he would tell the story of what is important to Kansans? If one simply follows the news releases, or Twitter feeds, it would be easy to conclude that lower corporate income tax, relaxed gun control, and smaller government are priorities. Somewhere down the list, education would be mentioned, but not as an economic driver. Education was once touted (and for many of us still is) the reason to live, work and raise a family in Kansas. Today, the political sound bites admonish education for consuming too much of the state’s budget and reportedly not producing college and career ready citizens.
I would imagine that Mr. Harvey might tell us “the rest of the story.” Education in Kansas is ranked fifth in the country, while spending is 34th. What is worse, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, Kansas has reduced spending on public education by an inflation-adjusted $950, more than all other states except Alabama and Wisconsin. Mr. Harvey might remind us that education is the number one economic driver for any thriving community or state. He likely would be quick to point out that the public education system is a reflection of the health and well being of the economy of our communities and state.
What does the recent decision to fund schools using a block grant system say about the health of Kansas? The block grant is not a grant at all; rather, it is a cut to essential revenue we count on to fund schools across the state. The block grant left us dealing with a $500,000 reduction in the current fiscal year. The block grant means we won’t receive additional funds for the increase in enrollment we experienced this year, nor for any increases in the next two years. KCKPS has grown between 200 and 800 students a year for the last five years. This year alone, we grew by 400 students. That is close to $3 million that we did not receive for students we are currently serving. To put it simply, the block grant ignores the growth in student population, and eliminates any provision to provide additional funding to support the special learning needs of at-risk, bilingual, or career and technical education programs.
Listening to the rhetoric, one would believe schools across Kansas are receiving increased funding. The truth is that any increases have gone not into classrooms, but rather into the public employees’ retirement system, and into statutorily required property tax relief for taxpayers. It’s certainly critical to fund the pension funds, and residents of Wyandotte County deserve property tax relief, but let’s not call these funds an increase to public education. Mr. Harvey might say . . . “and now you know – the rest of the story. Good day.”
It’s Up to Us!