The funding of Kansas Public Schools and Blue Valley schools in particular is an issue of major concern for us at Stand Up Blue Valley, and it’s a complicated one with lots of moving parts.
Kansas public schools are funded with tax money: property tax (paid by property owners within each district), sales taxes (paid throughout the state; money goes to the state and then is distributed to districts), and income tax. In the past, different types of tax monies could be used by districts within certain parameters, and how tax money was distributed to “richer” and “poorer” districts led to the questions we’ve been hearing about the “equitable” distribution of state aid.
When massive income tax cuts were enacted in 2012, state revenue plummeted. Gov. Brownback cut budgets of state agencies mid-year, including K-12 education. Month after month, revenue has not met even reduced projections, and the budget has been cut over and over, money has been swept from other funds to cover budget shortages, and required payments (such as KPERS funding) were delayed.
Until 2015, Kansas had a “school funding formula” that determined how much money each school district would get from the state each year, based on a per-pupil amount. That old formula took into account variables such as students with special needs, students living in poverty, and English language learners. One important aspect of this formula was the per-pupil funding. It’s the only way to fund schools that makes sense. School districts are teaching pupils. To pretend that funding doesn’t need to change if a district’s enrollment increases makes no sense. Yet that’s how the current “Block Grant” system works - it froze funding at 2014 levels through the 2016-17 school year. Every Blue Valley area legislator in office in 2015 voted in favor of the Block Grant funding, enacted as a response to lowered revenues due to drastic tax cuts.
At the same time, anti-tax, anti-government forces have been gaining ground with our lawmakers. Most of our elected Blue Valley area legislators have voted for and adhered to the tax policy that caused the revenue shortage. We frequently see testimony to legislators by the anti-tax, anti-public-education group Kansas Policy Institute (KPI), reportedly funded by Koch money, which employs full-time anti-education activists. We see false and misleading statements on a regular basis, for example, claims that K-12 funding is at record high levels, despite figures from unbiased sources that show Kansas K-12 funding had a decrease of over 10% in inflation-adjusted funding between 2008-2014. http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/most-states-have-cut-school-funding-and-some-continue-cutting What accounts for the disparity in these claims? One trick used is renaming or reclassifying funds. For example, the 20 mill property tax was formerly classified as local revenue, not as state aid, prior to 2014. That revenue source was reclassified as state aid, and the claim was made that state funding increased as a result. In another example, KPERS contributions were not previously included, and many would argue do not represent “education funding” any more than KPERS contributions to police officers’ retirement represent an increase in law enforcement capability. The governor and extremist lawmakers renamed money already being spent as “education funding” and claimed they had enacted an increase.
Another big concern for us related to funding is euphemistically referred to as “school choice” or “education freedom”; it’s really diverting tax dollars away from public schools to private, often religious schools, and even home schools. Various versions of this system crop up every session, and some call it “money laundering.” There’s already a law in place to allow this, passed in 2015, and the 2016 session saw an attempt to expand that law significantly with HB 2457. Blue Valley area Reps Grosserode and Lunn, on the House Education Committee, supported this voucher plan. As of this writing, the bill had not had a hearing by the full House.
Why are there anti-public education forces saying that schools aren’t efficient, and that funding is too high? There are several reasons behind anti-public-education sentiment. Under the category of “funding,” there are two pretty simple explanations. First, public schools cost money. Good public schools make taxpayers willing to spend tax money on their schools. Anti-tax zealots want to remove the reason taxpayers would be willing to pay taxes; crowded, poorly performing schools aren’t an incentive for taxpayers to support taxes. Second, schools cost money. Remove the “public” and realize that private schools would be a hugely profitable industry for some, if great public schools weren’t standing in the way.
When you hear claims that education funding has increased, or hear talk about “efficiencies”, ask yourself: who is making these statements and what is their motivation? Is “more efficient” the gold standard we want for Blue Valley schools? If you have 99 first graders in one school, is it more efficient to have 4 classes with 25, 25, 25, and 24, or 3 classes with 33? Which classroom do you want your first grader in? There are endless similar examples of “efficiencies” that might not be in our students’ best interests.
Also remember, it’s our money. We paid the taxes. Lawmakers seem to act like it’s theirs to regulate. They call school funding “Block Grant”... like it’s a Grant. They call it State Aid, when the majority of the money came from the property taxes we pay on our homes right here in Blue Valley. It’s not being handed down from the state, it comes from Blue Valley taxpayers and we should get a voice in how it’s allocated. Does your legislator know how you feel about funding your schools? Make sure you make your voice heard. More importantly, vote for legislators who share Blue Valley voters’ values and will support our schools.