Education is the single most expensive item in the State General Fund. New lawmakers arriving in Topeka are floored by just how much money it takes to run a public education system. And every one of them thinks, surely we can save money somewhere?
After years of "saving money" all that has been accomplished is to erode our state's guarantee of an equal and excellent education. Saving money should not be the end goal, but rather, lawmakers should be working to graduate tremendous citizens ready to work, excel, and flourish.
This week is full of legislation in the Kansas Statehouse with a focus on education. Today, a hearing is underway this afternoon on HB 2486, which would create a review board (we thought the KS Leadership wanted less government?) to determine if state aid should be given to local bond projects. Right now, it is. This board would review whether the capital building projects would lead to "instructional use" and if not, refuse state money to assist. Under the guise of "putting money into the classroom" they would simply refuse to spend money on school improvements. Would the money saved find its way "into the classroom" somewhere else? We wonder.
Tomorrow, there will be a hearing on HB 2457, an expansion of an already existing (and deplorable) tax-rebate scholarship bill. The existing bill allows corporations to "donate" money to the state in a scholarship fund, up to $10 million. The corporations receive 70% of that back as a tax credit. Public school students in at-risk schools can apply for those funds to go to a private school. Already, as it exists, this bill takes up to $700,000 of Kansas taxpayer money (the 70% rebate) and pays for private, mostly religious, schooling.
The proposed changes to this bill make it even more extreme. First, they allow any person to donate money, it is no longer limited to corporations. Then they offer 100% of the money back as a tax rebate! And finally, the students eligible no longer have to be at risk, and in fact, no longer have to attend public school. They just have to be under 250% of the poverty level, or $60,000 for a family of 4.
In a time when the state may not even meet the basic obligations as promised under the block grant funding, this bill allots up to $12.5 million of taxpayer funds to private school scholarships.
MainStream has provided testimony opposing this bill.
And on Wednesday, there is a hearing scheduled on HB 2504, a bill to collapse school districts. Counties with fewer than 10,000 students would result in only one school district in that county, regardless of geographic area or local concerns. It has bene pointed out that this won't save money, as there will be no consolidation of school buildings or transportation services, no "consolidation" of teachers. In fact ,it may just result in the firing of superintendents, in the end.
These laws, and the intent behind them, are not about improving education. Do not be fooled, and do not let others be fooled. They are about slashing spending or driving education towards privatization, and in every case, it does not matter if the outcome is worse for public education in Kansas. And in the case of each of these bills, the outcome is worse for education, and for the children of Kansas.