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Got a problem with public school funding in Kansas?

According to Star columnist Steve Rose you


should blame the minority Democratic Party. After all they controlled the Kansas House by one vote 18-
years ago when the school finance law was passed. Of course, it has nothing to do with the past 16-years
of inaction by legislatures dominated by Republicans.

The real problem is that Kansans have not been voting for legislators who share their support for public
schools, at least when it comes to providing tax dollars. We seem content that our kids are keeping up
with declining educational standards instead of setting new standards for higher achievement.

Like Rose, I and many others agree that our public schools are underfunded. The shortfall is not the
result of a flawed funding model, greedy teachers unions, free spending liberals or those Socialists Steve
identified. It is the result of inaction by the Republican dominated legislature.

Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution mandates public education. It establishes a ten member elected
board of education charged with the general supervision of public schools and all the educational
interests of the state. Local elected school boards are given operational responsibilities for public schools.
And, it mandates the legislature to make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of
the state. The architecture of public education separates educational standards, results and funding
mechanisms among elected bodies.

The funding plan created in 1992 was born in the midst of court rulings that the previous model violated
the US and Kansas Constitutions. The plan passed a Democratic majority House, a Republican majority
Senate and was signed into law by a Democratic Governor.

The funding equalization plan of 1992 substantially reduced local property taxes but centralized funding
authority and mandated per pupil funding at $3600.

The $3600 per pupil sum was determined to be a suitable amount to finance the educational interests of
the state in 1992 as provided by the centralized funding plan. Unfortunately, the legislature has failed
to increase per pupil funding in support of changing objectives or basic inflation. Sadly, most funding
increases over the past 16-years have occurred under threat from the courts.

The root cause of the funding problem is legislative inaction.

To appreciate the level of inaction, compare Social Security cost of living adjustments. Since 1992 these
adjustments have averaged 2.47% per year, which if applied to the 1992 base per pupil aid of $3600
would adjust the sum to $5584. Today, base aid is $4012 or about 1/10 increases enjoyed by retiree’s.
Governor Brownback is proposing to reduce base aid to $3947. I don’t think our seniors would be able to
live with the increases doled out to education.

The consistent failure of the Republican led legislature is why the current funding plan must be jettisoned.

Fortunately, a funding plan exists which eliminates the need for intense legislative action, protects
children in less wealthy communities, and returns funding decisions to local elected school boards. One
plan is characterized as a guaranteed tax base model. Essentially, it guarantees less wealthy districts
the revenues needed to provide state and local educational interests. Instead of redistributing all tax
money for education it redistributes just enough from more wealthy areas to support those less wealthy.
A guaranteed tax base model decentralizes school funding, reduces the state budget and empowers local
school boards who are directly accountable to voters.

Republican legislators need to stop playing victim and create a new decentralized funding plan that
makes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state without the necessity for
constant legislative action.