By Senator Karin Brownlee, Republican from Olathe
What is the higher priority? Should the Legislature send $143 million more to schools or preserve the form of government our forefathers carefully designed over two hundred years ago? The separation of powers doctrine is fundamental to maintaining our free society because it maintains a balance of powers with the judiciary unable to control the budget. That is until last Friday when the Kansas Supreme Court blurred the lines and came out with a ruling that the Kansas Legislature should appropriate an additional $143 million to the K-12 schools, for starters. The Court expects $568 million more after that.
A few school districts in Kansas sued the state because of their perception that the state is under funding them. This suit worked its way through the Kansas courts to the point that the state Supreme Court in January mandated the Legislature to address some specific areas to ensure an equal education for all Kansas students. The Legislature responded by voting to send an additional $142 million to our schools with some of the additions targeting the specific needs. This is the largest increase to schools since 1992. Out of our $4.9 billion budget, about $2.6 billion will go to schools in ’05-’06.
The school lobby in the Kansas Capitol is possibly the strongest lobby under the dome. I have seen bills pass initially one day only to get squished like a bug the next day on a final vote because the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) and the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) deemed the bill a threat to their way of life. Because of the strength of this lobby, it is hard to sort fact from fiction when discussing school finance.
You have probably heard that the base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) has not kept up with inflation. What are the facts? BSAPP is only one part of the school funding formula and there isn’t a district in the state that only receives this amount. It is always multiplied by weighting factors which increases this number significantly. Since the school funding formula was rewritten in 1992, state, local and federal funds increases for K-12 have surpassed the consumer price index (CPI) every year. Kansas spends about 54% of its state budget on our schools. On average, other states spend about 35% of their state budgets on K-12. The next time someone tries to convince you that the Legislature is shortchanging our schools, you might keep these facts in mind.
Additionally, Kansas students perform quite well when compared to students in other states. Over the past few years, our schools have ranked in the top ten states in many categories. In some areas on nationalized tests, our students are ranked even higher. Lack of quality is not driving the push for millions more to schools.
I write all of this to make the point that the true need may not be the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state Supreme Court is mandating. Certainly our schools would make use of any money sent their way. However, the need for balance in state spending is critical to maintain a positive climate for families and businesses. Frankly, this struggle is no longer about school funding. The greater need is to maintain the balance of powers and not allow a court to tell the Legislature who gets how much money. That is the exclusive duty of the Kansas Legislature.