Education is THE issue

Here at MainStream, we concern ourselves with a lot of issues. Our mission is to advocate for good governance, quality public education, healthy communities, and sustainable fiscal policies. That's a broad swath, and sometimes it can feel like we're swimming upstream. This last year saw a lot of gains in these areas, but one issue, one particular aspect of all we cover, is so central to the well being of ALL Kansans, that we come back to it again and again.

That issue is access to quality public education for ALL Kansas children.

No one issue hits so many of our goals as this one. Education offers opportunity. Education engenders success. Access to quality education is tied to healthy lives and strong communities. Education leads to strong civic engagement. And education is one of the best predictors of economic success for individuals, communities, and yes, states. But education is under siege. The United States is falling in the ranks of educated countries, 24th in science, 39th in math, and 24th in reading (Pew Research). And while the 2016 KASB Education Report Card for Kansas showed that our state still provides an excellent public education, we are falling behind in testing, spending, and rate of improvement (KASB). That report also showed that our teacher salaries are not keeping pace with the nation, and that those states that rank better spend more per pupil. Thirty-seven other states have raised education funding more than Kansas since 2008 (Wichita Eagle).

Kansas will spend less per student next year than it did a decade ago

In fact (in case you haven't been paying attention), the Kansas Supreme Court ruled this year, in the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit to raise education funding, that with 25% of Kansas children not reaching education milestones, the state is required to increase funding for public education. The Kansas Legislature, hamstrung by the Governor's threat of a veto and his recalcitrant loyalists in both chambers, finally pushed out a bill with good policy but woefully inadequate funding. Even the state's own Board of Education estimated the need at many times what the Legislature provided.

Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments from the state and plaintiff's attorneys regarding this new bill. A ruling is expected any day on whether that bill raises enough funds to provide a suitable education for all Kansas children. The Court did not seem inclined to accept the paltry sum, according to press reports. Kansas justices question new school funding plan - Wichita Eagle.

Understand this: not even accounting for inflation, Kansas will spend less per student next year, than it did in 2008. Less. We invest less in each student than we did a decade ago.

Base state aid per pupil:

  • $4,400 in 2008-09 (KSLeg Research). In today's dollars, that would be $5,104! (CPI Inflation Calc)
  • $4,006 in 2017-18 under SB 19, the law being reviewed by the Supreme Court (KASB)

Which makes this weekend's editorial in the Kansas City Star even more incomprehensible. The paper suggests, as did the state's attorneys before the Supreme Court, that we should wait and see if this inadequate sum will be enough. Wait another year, they say, for more data. Then let voters decide in the election in 2018. Kansas has been in litigation over underfunding public education, in one lawsuit or another, since the seventies. The current case, Gannon, has been in litigation since 2010. How many Kansas children have had to make do with a less than suitable education while we debated? In what way is fully funding public education, which is available to all, a negative? 

And yet, there are still elected officials, elected by us, who believe that we do not need to continue investing in the education of our children. Or that, perhaps, rural children do not need the same opportunities as urban kids. Or, and we see this nationally, that children can be served better by sending public funds to for-profit "educational institutions" that are, by their nature, not required to serve all kids.

What can you do? Vote! On Kansas' annual Primary Election Day, August 1st this year, communities across Kansas are holding primary elections for school board and municipalities. MainPAC has released recommendations for the counties in our back yard, Johnson, Wyandotte, and Douglas. If you don't live in those counties, your local paper, party, or advocates may have suggestions.

And get ready for 2018.

Remember to do more than vote. Get informed, get involved, make a difference.

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