A study presented to the Legislature last week by Texas A&M researcher Lori Taylor, showed that the average efficiency rate of Kansas schools is 96 percent.

That number backs up a 2017 study from the Kansas Association of School Boards that showed Kansas ranks in the top 10 in an average of student outcomes while its per-pupil spending is below the national average.

Kansas school districts are resourceful. Districts around the state are filled with teachers and administrators who are the heart of education and best know how to try to achieve great things in the classroom. Our teachers and staff are dedicated, and I am grateful and proud our public schools are rated so highly. 

Our circumstance, however, is perilous given we are experiencing growing teacher shortages and our average teacher pay is no higher than 42nd in the nation.  Our teacher salaries are nearly 8% below Nebraska’s. It is obvious that this has been a decade where school districts, and their individual schools, have had to learn how to function with fewer resources when funding from the state was cut following the 2008 recession and revenue shortfalls in the wake of the 2012 tax reductions.

The Taylor study presented last week was commissioned by the Kansas Legislature which is working to address the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that Kansas schools are unconstitutionally underfunded. The study clearly confirms, just as the earlier Augenblick and Myers study and the Legislative Post Audit study, that funding matters when it comes to improving education outcomes.

 

As I have had the opportunity to serve in the legislature and more recently the opportunity to be a close observer of this legislature I am encouraged that in the coming few weeks our Kansas policy makers will successfully meet the school funding challenge.

Having courageously addressed tax reform in the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers have no appetite for raising taxes which I understand.  The question then becomes – can we reach the goal of constitutional funding with existing resources?

I believe we can and here is how.  First, we can make meaningful changes but confirm the essence of our current and historic school funding formula.  This formula has been touted as a model nationally and has been upheld by our Supreme Court.

We can set realistic goals which, while not as aspirational as we might wish, will improve outcomes significantly for Kansas students.

We can draw on available and likely resources which includes current ending balances and revenue which, 8 months into the current fiscal year, is up $270 million. Experts believe that amount will grow.  Kansas is currently benefitting from revenue created by tax reform at the federal level.  Prospects for resolving the inequity with internet sales tax are better than they have ever been and could also provide meaningful additional revenue to Kansas.  The Kansas economy is improving and that will obviously help address K-12 funding challenge as well as other pressing needs.

Any legislative solution will necessarily be phased in over three to five years and I trust the Supreme Court will agree with a responsible phased in plan.

The path ahead for our legislature is daunting but I am confident they will be up to the challenge.  I am Don Hill and that is something to think about.

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