Refuting Kansas Schools for Fair Funding

From the office of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. The original post on this topic is here.

Fellow Kansans,

The rebuttal of critics to our previous message on school finance was, at best, flimsy and so easily refuted that a sequel was only appropriate.  Their tired champions were the usual suspect editorial writers and the litigation prone attorney representing Schools for Fair funding, a taxpayer funded group demanding more than $1 billion in additional funding for schools.

Schools for Fair Funding logoIn their response, they correctly point out that both bond and interest and capital outlay projects receive local funding.  This is indeed the case.  To finance new buildings, school districts turn to voters asking them to approve a defined bond package. Citizens assess the validity of the request and vote accordingly. But here’s the critical piece of information they left out: The State of Kansas contributes millions of dollars each year to support these efforts. The State Division of Budget reports that last school year alone the state gave $147 million to districts in bond and interest aid and $29 million in capital outlay equalization funding. It’s also worth noting that state contributions to these two funds have more than doubled since FY 2010.

Critics are often quick to dismiss KPERS funding, along with capital outlay and bond and interest aid, claiming it doesn’t count as education funding because it isn’t operating funds. The fact of the matter is this: if the state didn’t contribute $456 million in these three categories last school year, that money could have gone toward general operating funds. John Robb, attorney for the ever-litigating Schools for Fair Funding, asserted the state had “no hand” in bonds, and that local districts were able to increase teacher pay only by robbing “Peter to pay Paul.” $147 million certainly qualifies as “a hand.” While the state doesn’t designate funds specifically for teacher pay, it does contribute directly to bond packages, technology, and KPERS, freeing general operating funds to go toward teachers—the most important asset in any classroom.  Furthermore, and quite ironically, Mr. Robb himself is taking money out of Kansas classrooms to fund his war on taxpayers. He is robbing Peter to pay Robb.

This conversation highlights one of the most significant flaws in the old funding formula — it prioritized and incentivized non-classroom spending. The state spends millions more on new schools, administrative facilities, and technology, while educators complain about the lack of operational funds. Many districts, however, still have enough additional operational funds to provide higher pay to their teachers. How can all of these things be true if state funding for schools is declining? Last spring, KCK purchased a $48,000 piano illustrating this exact problem. While admittedly an exorbitant expenditure, the old formula required the district to spend those funds on capital outlay items and prohibited the district from using the funding to hire a new teacher. The new formula Governor Brownback is working to craft along with legislators and educators will not include such absurd mandates. Instead, funding should be flexible, giving local districts the ability to determine what will best serve their students.

As always, thanks for remaining informed and engaged.

Melika Willoughby
Deputy Communications Director
Office of Governor Sam Brownback