The State of Education in Kansas

School starts again next week in some districts in Kansas, and we thought it would be a good moment to recap the state of education in Kansas after the tumultuous legislative session and the all-too-short summer.

At the end of the session this spring, the legislature managed to pass and "fund" a block grant scheme to finance public education in Kansas. The block grants were sold as a two-year breathing-room period to allow the Legislature to come up with a new, better (Constitutional?) education funding system. There are some wait-and-see doubters as to whether that deadline will be honored.

In the meantime, the block grants fund districts at the same levels as the previous formula had for the year before, but allow for no changes in funding if need changed. The champions of this plan continued to maintain the fiction that funding had been "increased" in previous years by adding pension funds to the ledger, although teacher pensions had never been included, and still don't go towards "classroom dollars."

We were left with stories of schools closing early, buildings shuttered, teachers let go, and plans thrown away. Some districts, buoyed by political pork in the form of permission to raise local taxes, did so and promised great things. The Shawnee Mission School District, close to home for MainStream, reduced fees, brought in more technology, and promised smaller classes, while in the background well-paid, experienced teachers were encouraged to retire early, custodial staff were required to "re-apply" for their jobs at lower salaries, and administrative positions were slashed.

Then, earlier this summer, a three-judge panel of the Shawnee County District Court declared these new block grants violated the Kansas Constitution, which requires that the state fund public education both adequately and equitably. They found the block grants were not equitable, and required that the state invest millions more in education within the week. The Kansas Supreme Court put a stay on that order while they reviewed the situation.

And here we are, one week before school starts.

Districts are gearing up, teachers are getting ready, children are wringing the last bit of fun from summer. Somewhere the extremists are preparing another assault on public education, in the form of tax-paid tickets to private education for suburban kids, legal threats to teachers who engage their students in critical thinking, or further funding cuts on the altar of zero income tax.

A public education is a guarantee of the State of Kansas. The Constitution of the State of Kansas assures every student that they will receive the best opportunity to succeed that we can give them. It does not say that some students will have better opportunities than others. That some will get a chance to escape a failing school, while further funding cuts push that school off a cliff. It does not say that your neighbors can decide if you get a good education. It is a guarantee of every opportunity afforded to every student.

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