From time to time, I receive e-mails saying that our schools are “drastically underfunded.” This viewpoint is also held by the justices serving on the Kansas Supreme Court, who have ruled that the public education system has been inadequately funded. Both of these claims are being made despite the fact that K-12 education spending is more than $4 billion a year and consumes more than half of the state’s general revenues.
Because of this level of funding for one item, little is left over for other critical spending needs like Medicaid, prisons and roads. Unfortunately, while demanding that more money be spent on education, the court refuses to consider the other urgent needs of Kansas citizens, which in turn drives demands for tax increases. Those increases hurt our economy and will cause future state revenue to decline.
Despite this reality, in the many Supreme Court rulings demanding increased funding for education, there has not yet been a ruling that expresses any concern for the taxpayers and their ability to pay for the level of education funding the justices insist upon. There has not yet been a ruling from the court that shows any understanding of economic principles and how they affect the total revenues of the state. There has not yet been a ruling that holds the Kansas State Board of Education accountable for how funds are currently being spent. And there has not yet been a ruling that conveys any interest in the sustainability of the funding structure the court is imposing upon the state. Instead, the court takes a very myopic view that is overall very destructive to Kansas.
What is considered an adequate level of funding for schools will always be subjective in nature, because there are so many variables involved. Everyone has a different opinion of how children should receive their education. However, it is the Kansans who are retired or employed outside of the K-12 education system who must pay for the education system. Those who are employed within the education system are receiving the government funding back — so in essence, they are not paying for it. The taxes they pay are a flow-through back to the state treasury. Unlike the private sector, this creates no profits, from which tax revenues are derived.
My fear is that we are fast reaching a point where the system the court has imposed is not sustainable, if we are not there already. There are many regions in Kansas where there is little to no growth in the private sector, but significant growth in the public sector for education. Is this really a long-term model for sustainability and success?
We need a system where there is accountability for how dollars are spent, with less money directed to administration and more to students and teacher salaries. The bill that was just passed (described by some critics as not enough, or a “pittance”), was not only severely lacking in accountability, but it was also fiscally irresponsible.
The Kansas Legislature is comprised of 165 elected officials (125 representatives and 40 senators) who must be elected by the will of the people every two or four years. It is the duty of these officials to represent the people who elected them to determine the levels of funding for the all of the various needs of the state.
If the Legislature and the people continue down this path of allowing seven unelected individuals to assert their will on Kansans, circumventing the people, the state Legislature and the state Constitution, then we are slowly surrendering our freedoms and our liberty is at stake.
Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook represents the 10th District in the Kansas Senate.