Proper school funding is the best option for growth

09/21/2013 5:00 PM

09/21/2013 7:25 PM

There was a time, not so long ago, when Missouri let its public schools and universities languish, while the progressive state of Kansas showered love and affection on its schools.

Not anymore.

A just-released scorecard on funding cuts to public schools since the 2008 recession shows Kansas came in fourth worst in the nation.

Missouri, by contrast, was the 29th worst. Not great, but not nearly in the dismal class with Kansas.

Let’s do the numbers:

Between fiscal year 2008 and now, state school funding in Kansas, adjusted for inflation, decreased 16.5 percent. Missouri’s declined by only 3.1 percent.

Only Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma came in worse than Kansas.

The report was issued by the Washington, D.C., based nonprofit Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

As tax revenues rebounded from the economic recovery, many states restored some funding to schools that had been cut during the recession. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature chose massive tax cuts as their priority. Public schools saw no relief from the steep cuts over the past five years. Also, university funding has been slashed — while Missouri’s has been increased.

The continued shrinkage of K-12 school funding in Kansas has led to budget shortfalls, teacher layoffs and program cuts.

Missouri should be basking in its glory, compared with Kansas. But oh, no. The Legislature actually is trying to emulate the Kansas shortsightedness.

The Missouri legislature passed a $700 million tax cut, which surely would have led to cuts in education. Only the veto by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon saved the day.

Is this crazy, or what?

There is no more vital priority for a state than to provide the highest quality of education. Apparently, many of our state leaders think tax cuts are the highest priority.

“At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, the decline in state educational investment is cause for concern,” the report said.

Brownback has a spin to counter the stark realities of school funding cutbacks.

He has claimed, time and again, that total state funding for schools has increased every year during his administration, which has been almost three years.

The governor might check his nose. It seems to be growing.

The truth is, the governor is counting mandatory contributions to the teachers’ retirement system.

Base state aid to pupils, which is the measurement not only of the national study but also of the Kansas State Department of Education, has seen steady declines over the six years — some of that decline occurred during Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson administrations.

In the meantime, Brownback — as in the Missouri legislature — contends that massively reduced taxes will lead to economic growth that will result in more revenue, not less.

This is hogwash. Schools will continue to be starved whenever taxes are cut dramatically.

Lower taxes are also supposed to lure more businesses to a “pro-growth” state like Kansas.

But how do you think an out-of-state executive will view Kansas when it is discovered that the state has one of the worst records in school funding, both K-12 and at the university level, in the nation since 2008?

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