Bradford: Education funding in Kansas

From Kansas Representative John Bradford, a legislator’s perspective on education funding in Kansas this year. Bradford represents district 40 in Leavenworth County, covering parts of Lansing and Leavenworth, and part of Delaware Township.

Education Funding Policy

A lot of attention has been focused on Education since the 2015 Kansas Legislative Session came to an end. I hope the following information will help to clarify this issues regarding education spending.

Kansas LegislatureThe debate over school funding in the last five years hinges on one event – the temporary infusion of more than $277 million of ARRA money (federal “stimulus” dollars), into school district budgets.
The federal dollars were intended to bolster budgets as states nationwide struggled with declining revenue during the 2008 recession.

In FY 2010 (the 2009-2010 school year) alone, ARRA put more than $224 million into “state fiscal stabilization funds” for K-12. The next school year saw another $52 million infused into that fund. In other words, new federal dollars not only replaced state spending, but increased the amount Kansas had been putting into schools.

With this short-term spike in new money, school districts initiated new long-term projects and hiring.
By the next year, FY 12, that federal money was gone. But because the huge influx of federal dollars was not completely replaced by state dollars after the federal money went away, a new narrative about “the biggest cut in education history” emerged.

Despite efforts by Republican lawmakers to funnel money to classrooms and ensure that districts have the flexibility to prioritize spending and give students the resources they need to succeed, special interest groups like the KNEA and KASB continued to push the narrative that school funding has been slashed and the future of public education is in jeopardy, simply because federal dollars were not entirely replaced with state funds.

This is at the same time that state funding for schools has reached an all-time high – over $4 billion per year. That figure includes new money for teacher pensions, which is a key force in attracting quality educators, as noted by the Kansas Supreme Court. But recently, there’s been a new shift in the narrative, at least from one source. Mark Tallman of the KASB recently admitted on his blog that “it’s true that from the viewpoint of total dollars, funding for Kansas schools is rising.” Even though that’s the case, he says, schools are suffering because general state aid is not rising fast enough to keep up with inflation and enrollment.

However, Tallman falls to address the fact that over the last ten years, while there have been 1,992 classroom teachers added to schools, the number of non-teaching personal, such as administrators, supervisors, and specialists have grown by 2,493, according to data from the Kansas Department of Administration. During the same time period, the number of students enrolled in Kansas schools grew by less than 20,000. This works out to one new non-teaching staff member for every eight new students.

It’s worth examining why there was so much growth in administrative positions over classroom positions. More specifically, why is there a need for 87 more assistant principals than there was 10 years ago?

Kansas has always been a state where local control over schools reigns supreme. Lawmakers believe that local boards of education are in the best position to ensure schools educate students effectively. However, the other side of the coin is accountability for taxpayers. Schools do not exist to provide jobs, or to stimulate the local economy. They exist to educate children. The money to do so should not be tied up in administrative overhead, marketing (such as radio ads that have popped up in recent weeks advertising new classes), or inefficient programs.

This is where the new school finance formula comes into play. Lawmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to improve the system for education and education accountability in Kansas. The new way of funding education in Kansas should not only be designed to ensure that students are wholly prepared to succeed immediately after graduation, but also that parents and lawmakers alike can clearly see how money is being directed and used to educate students.

Accountability and local flexibility are not mutually exclusive. The new way of funding Kansas education should include a uniform accounting system that tracks spending in identical methods across school districts statewide. Such a system wouldn’t restrict operating funds; it would just make it easier for the general public and policy-makers to see how tax dollars are being used in their local district.

Kansas schools were recently ranked 12th in the nation by Wallethub.com. While these kinds of surveys are not exactly scientific studies, they reinforce a fact that many Kansans already know: our schools are excellent. But, that doesn’t mean we stop trying to improve them by using all resources and exploring all of our options. Our students will be the ones who benefit, and they deserve every opportunity we can give them.

Sincerely,

John Bradford
Kansas State Representative, District 40
913-683-0871
[email protected]