We said it at the beginning of the session, and we reiterate it now, the big issues this year in the Kansas Legislature are public education, the Kansas budget, and expansion of the state's health care mismanagement. Under all of those lurks the specter of the independence of the judicial branch of state government, as we saw last week.
On Tuesday, March 1st, we hold our legislative forum on public education in Kansas, asking the question: what will a Kansas education be worth? We are asking both how much a Kansas education should cost, and what are we getting for our money? We will be joined by two of the Democrats on the House Education Committee, Rep. Nancy Lusk and Rep. Jarrod Ousley, and by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R), formerly of the same committee. The panel will be moderated by Mark Desetti, of the KNEA.
Why should you attend, or watch online? Because this year's Kansas Legislature has pulled out all the stops in their attempt to diminish the value of a Kansas education. In just over a month of legislating, we have seen the following:
No new school finance plan - The blocks grants were only supposed to be last two years. While some legislators still hold out hope for a new school finance plan this year, even the legislative leadership is doubtful it will get done. Certainly not in an election year, though the Supreme Court ruling may leave things up in the air.
Taxes paying for private schools - A bill to expand the tax credit "scholarship" act from last year is waiting for a vote in the Kansas House. This bill would expand the existing (already flawed) act to make it less about giving at-need students in failing schools a chance at a better education, and more about Kansas taxpayers paying for private, religious education in unaccredited schools.
Pulling back on state aid for district construction - A bill currently working its way through the Legislature would create a new panel to review school district projects partially funded with state money, with an eye to reducing what the state pays for. It is couched in familiar "into the classroom" and "efficiency" terms, but means they won't pay for gyms or hallways or auditoriums. This is just another way to reduce expenses while creating sub-standard public education.
Criminalizing sex education - A bill returning from last year aims to make it harder for teachers to teach common and reasonable concepts in sex education. Under this bill, if a parent or organization raises objections, the teacher is open to disciplinary and even legal action.
Eliminating gifted programs - A bill—subsequently removed after it raised a furor—would have removed gifted education from the category of Special Education, leaving it open to cuts and possible elimination. Because it is clear the Kansas leadership is vested in bringing the state to a level of mediocrity in all aspects: economic growth, education, health care, etc.
Consolidating school districts - In a move that was also withdrawn after unexpected resistance, this bill would have reduced the number of school districts in Kansas almost in half. While it might have reduced the number of superintendents, it would have increased the administrative overhead and likely saved little money while making districts less efficient and less responsive.
An equitable education - And now, to top it all off, the Kansas Supreme Court has given the Legislature the opportunity to fashion yet another school financing scheme, this one with the express purpose of making public education financing equitable. With no guidance, some have suggested the Legislature could just cut money from some school districts to make everyone equal by lowering those who had "too much." The obvious solution would be to add money to education, but given the revenue troubles in Kansas, and the unlikeliness of a tax-cut rollback in an election year, we don't expect the answer will be "more money."
With all of this at stake, we encourage you to come to our forum to listen, ask questions, and learn what you can do to make a difference.