Kelly vows to rebuild Kansas with focus on schools, foster care, Medicaid during State of the State address
The Kansas Legislature made the right decision when it passed a school spending bill aimed at addressing shortfalls in education.
On Saturday, Gov. Laura Kelly signed the measure. “I’m proud this reasonable, commonsense plan was embraced with bipartisan support,” she said after the bill passed. “Kansans want their leaders to work together to move our state forward.”
Yet it is also clear that lawmakers’ work on school issues doesn’t end with the governor’s signature.
Fully funding K-12 education in Kansas remains an important goal. The just-passed school funding bill may not reach it.
The Kansas Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue later this year. Last year, the court said the Legislature needed to adjust school spending for inflation in order to comply with its constitutional education requirements.
The bill adds spending for schools but still falls short of fully offsetting drastic cuts made during the last decade. In the 2019-2020 school year, for example, base state aid per pupil would be just $36 higher than base state per-pupil spending in 2008-2009.
That’s why attorneys for the school districts suing the state have suggested it isn’t enough. “The math just doesn’t do it,” attorney John Robb of Schools for Fair Funding told the Associated Press.
Yet there are all kinds of calculations, including the addition and subtraction taxpayers perform every day on their home budgets. And we believe the newly-signed bill is a reasonable attempt to address the Supreme Court’s concerns, at least in the first year.
The governor supports it. A bipartisan legislative coalition supports it. In the realm of school finance, Kansans cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, particularly in the short term.
If the state Supreme Court determines that the new spending level is adequate, it should say so. If not — if the court finds the new spending inadequate — the Legislature and the governor can revisit the issue. In that scenario, the court should recognize the work done this session and extend the deadline for compliance.
State lawmakers also should rededicate themselves to fully funding schools. The debate should never be about meeting a spending target set by the courts. It should be about spending enough money to extend the opportunity for a quality education to every child in Kansas.
That’s why the governor was right to veto a massive corporate tax cut earlier this year. Educating children comes before tax breaks for business.
Lawmakers and the governor are getting closer to the goal of meeting the constitutional requirements for a suitable education in Kansas. The Supreme Court will decide if it is close enough. Either way, the work to fulfill that responsibility should continue.