Guest Commentary

Kansas lawmakers must fix public school funding plan

Jordan Fantroy, 10, worked on an iPad while in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary, a Kansas Challenge School award winner, in Olathe. The Challenge Award recognizes schools for outstanding achievement and uncommon accomplishments based on Kansas Assessment results, the sample size and the socioeconomic status of those taking the test.
Jordan Fantroy, 10, worked on an iPad while in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary, a Kansas Challenge School award winner, in Olathe. The Challenge Award recognizes schools for outstanding achievement and uncommon accomplishments based on Kansas Assessment results, the sample size and the socioeconomic status of those taking the test. skeyser@kcstar.com

It’s as true today as it was in the fifth century B.C., when Greek philosopher Diogenes said, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”

For our school districts on the Kansas side of the area, a solid rebuilding of that foundation is an urgent need. In the knowledge-based, global marketplace of the 21st century, a well-educated population with technical skills and problem-solving abilities is the key to Greater Kansas City’s innovation, growth and ability to compete.

The Kansas City Chamber and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City believe quality public education is, without question, our region’s most vital resource to attract and retain economic development that fuels growth and much-needed job creation. While Kansans breathed a collective sigh of relief in the summer when they learned the state’s schools would keep their doors open after July 1, there are still multiple questions.

The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule — as early as this fall — on the adequacy of the state’s funding for education. Also, several legislators and state officials in Topeka are working on a new school funding formula, a commitment made when, last year, the Legislature dropped the old school formula and replaced it with a block grant system that is in effect into next year.

As the Legislature has dealt with recurring state revenue shortages, it has considered public education funding and governance proposals that, we think, would restrict innovation and reduce the authority and autonomy of the state’s school districts. In an effort to control school districts, these past proposals have tried to regulate everything from kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculum to purchasing and capital improvements to school board elections.

The chamber and civic council share legislators’ concerns about student achievement and educational accountability, but we are troubled by the micro-focus of recent legislative measures. Long-term improvement lies in a structural solution to education funding based on student outcomes, local authority, adequacy and equity.

To create a new school funding formula for Kansas, we urge officials to develop a framework for a well-defined and inclusive process that will deliver a world-class education for all Kansas students. An effective process must:

▪ Include legislators; the Kansas Board of Education; school district leaders; faculty, labor, business, rural, urban and suburban leaders; and parents.

▪ Be based on student outcomes and exemplary standards required in the existing and emerging sectors of our economy.

▪ Begin with a per-pupil minimum guarantee and definition of a state adequacy target.

▪ Assure equity, local authority and funding flexibility.

Writing a new school funding formula can be contentious and difficult. A thoughtful and collaborative process building upon the expertise and diverse needs of stakeholders is best.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s recent invitation to educators to participate in developing a new school funding formula is a good step forward. Rebuilding the foundation of an excellent education system in Kansas is of the highest priority.

Our children’s future — and that of our region — depends on it.

Joe Reardon of Kansas City, Kan., is president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Scott Smith of Kansas City is chairman of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.

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