The following article is by Dr. Walt Chappell, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education. A version appeared in the Wichita Eagle. Chappell has offered testimony to the Kansas Legislature on many ways that schools can reduce spending and fulfill their mission at the same time. See Kansas school district consolidation, reorganization testimony heard and At House Appropriations, Chappell presents Kansas school funding ideas.
On Saturday, a legislative update was held in Wichita. It is clear that serious budget decisions must be made in the next two weeks by our legislators.
Fortunately, existing cash reserves, cost controls and reduced spending can help balance the State budget to keep our schools strong and provide essential services for our most vulnerable disabled and senior citizens. If necessary, additional revenue can come by raising cigarette, alcohol and soft drink taxes without increasing the regressive sales tax.
As one of the people elected to help maintain strong schools, I am certain that positive actions can be taken to support our teachers and students. The objectives of each elected official I know are not to lay off any classroom teacher. We also want to keep a broad curriculum for our students including vocational courses, art, music, P.E. and driver’s education.
- During the past 10 years, Kansas school district spending from all funding sources has jumped from $3 billion per year to $5.5 billion. This is a $2.5 billion per year increase to teach the same number of students.
- School districts started this school year with $1.5 billion in carryover cash balances. Of that amount, $700 million were in operating accounts which have increased by 53% in just four years. For example, Wichita schools began the year with $95.7 million in operating cash reserves. It estimates that $66 million remains for next year. There is no budget justification for eliminating any teacher’s job.
- Spending more money on schools does not produce higher student achievement. During these same ten years, NAEP, ACT and SAT national test scores for Kansas students have remained flat. About 25 percent of our K-12 students still drop-out before graduation. Wichita has 16 of the lowest performing schools yet has a higher than average cost-per-pupil.
- Only half of the people hired by school districts in Kansas are certified teachers. The rest are non-instructional or administrative staff. With the additional $1 billion the Legislature gave to school districts after the 2005 Montoy lawsuit, 6,000 people were hired. Only one-third were teachers. In the past four years, non-instructional operating costs are up $373 million across Kansas.
School districts receive 52 percent of the state budget. Legislators must cut education funding to balance the budget. To offset these cuts, school districts can easily use a portion of the hundreds of millions in cash they already have in operating accounts. If more money is needed, they can cut non-instructional and administrative costs. No teachers should be laid off or courses eliminated.
Our legislators have a tough job ahead. Each of them is trying hard to make sound budget decisions based on facts. We can help them by getting informed and encouraging them to keep essential services without raising sales or property taxes.