Editorials

Kobach, Kelly each say the other is lying about school funding. One of them is right

At a recent debate, Kansas gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach and Laura Kelly accused one another of lying about funding for education. So who’s right?

Secretary of State Kobach, the Republican nominee, said as he has before that “state spending on K-12 education in Kansas has been increasing, but strangely we haven’t seen the results.”

That’s not what happened, said Kelly, a state senator and the Democratic nominee: “The fact of the matter is, we have not been increasing funding for schools until this past year when we met the court mandate to do that.”

She’s right about that. The Kansas Supreme Court found that lawmakers had not adequately funded education, as constitutionally mandated.

And Kobach is not right that we’ve been spending more and more on education, with nothing to show for it.

In fact, when adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil in 2018, at $8,771, is right about where it was in the 1990s, according to figures provided by the Kansas Association of School Boards.

That’s actually down from the $10,215 per pupil, when adjusted for inflation, that the state was spending almost a decade ago, in 2009.

Kelly said at the debate that if Kobach is elected, “We’re talking about cutting those schools again, and we go back to larger class sizes, programs being cut and teachers fleeing our state.”

Not at all, Kobach said: “Ms. Kelly continues to repeat a lie over and over again … claiming I say schools are overfunded and I want to cut school spending. That is a falsehood. I have never said that.”

It’s true that he never used the word “overfunded” and never said he wanted to cut overall spending, either.

But he did oppose increasing funding, and gave the strong impression that he thinks schools are overfunded now.

He’s repeatedly said administrators are overpaid and talked about public school “crystal palaces” and “Taj Mahal-like” school buildings that are ridiculously lavish compared to the log cabin-like “shabby building” in which he was educated at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka.

“My English classes were in a double-wide trailer … and somehow I managed to graduate, and I got into Harvard and I did just fine. I didn’t need a supercomputer in every classroom.”

Kobach has said that more of what we spend — 75 percent — should go into classroom instruction, though by some calculations, more than that goes into the classroom now.

He called the $500 million school funding increase over the next five years that Kansas lawmakers approved this year a “king’s ransom” that the state couldn’t afford and that schools didn’t need, if only they spent the money they have more wisely.

Kelly supported the increase and Greg Orman, who is running as an independent, has said he supports adequately funding education.

At an earlier debate, Kobach said that a Wichita high school has a dozen assistant principals. No Wichita high school has that many assistant principals. His campaign later said that a lawmaker had told the candidate that, but he should not have stated that as a fact without checking.

For all his talk about trimming fat from public school administration that could better be spent in classes, here’s another fact: Before lawmakers approved more spending on K-12 education, a study they commissioned found that Kansas already has some of the most efficiently run schools in the country.

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