An issue that some promote as a way to make Kansas schools more efficient and save money is school consolidation. If it happens, it won’t be the first time schools in our state have gone through consolidation.
Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, who is a Democrat representing Kansas City, recently asked the Kansas Legislative Research Department for information about school consolidation in Kansas. The memo that KLRD produced is below, and here are some interesting facts.
In 1958 Kansas had 2,794 school districts. That number shrunk to 311 in 1969. (Today there are 296 districts.) The goal during the 1960s was to produce school districts that had at least 400 students in grades 1-12, or at least 200 square miles and an assessed valuation of at least $2 million. Some of the intent of the legislation in 1963 was “the general improvement of the public schools,” “equalization of the benefits and burdens of education,” and to use state funds more wisely.
A previous attempt at consolidation in 1961 was rejected by the courts, but public interest in the bill was high, according to material found by KLRD. One remark was “Most of the opposition [to consolidation] was due to a large majority of small school not wanting their little kingdom disrupted, even at the expense of educational standards.” We see similar remarks made today.
A note in the memo mentions a 1992 report of school consolidation efforts in other states, finding that “consolidating school districts led to a minor savings in administrative costs but major savings would result only from closing schools, reducing the number of teachers, and increasing class sizes.”
Kansas school spending advocates tell us that reducing teachers and increasing class sizes would be a disaster for children. But see this article and also this to learn how teacher effectiveness is much more important than class size.
The history of school consolidation in Kansas nearly 50 years ago is also interesting for this reason: Currently a coalition of Kansas school districts are suing the state, asking for more money to be spent on schools. The state’s been sued for this reason before, and the remedy was probably not what the school spending advocates of the day wanted. Here’s correspondence from Sen. Steineger:
This past summer, I met former Senator Glee Smith who served in the Legislature from the late 50’s into the mid 60’s. I asked him what prompted the unification movement, and he replied, “A bunch of school districts got together and filed a lawsuit against the State claiming not enough state aid,” and the Legislature responded by establishing a mechanism requiring unification of smaller weaker school districts.
The standard remedy that school districts ask for in lawsuits is more money. Perhaps the courts will impose a different remedy.