Let’s talk about Kansas’s chronically-underfunded education system.
The 2008 financial crisis took its toll on our state’s budget, but that’s not what sent shock waves through our institutions for so many years. Under Brownback, the legislature passed crippling upper-class tax cuts that shifted money away from essential infrastructure like highways and schools to hand it to special interest groups.
As funding for schools fell, so too did student graduation rates and other measures of success – so much so that the Kansas Supreme Court weighed in and told lawmakers to get their act together. The Kansas State Constitution requires the legislature to make “suitable provision for the finance of the educational interests of the state.” Yet for a decade, the legislature failed, time and time again, to do this most basic and essential job.
Last year, the court ruled that the legislature had finally managed “sufficient” funding, but don’t let that fool you into thinking we’re out of the woods. After a decade of starvation budget, we lost a lot of qualified teachers and harmed a lot of talented students – and that one year of full funding is like going to the grocery store after emptying the pantry.
Conservative lawmakers have not changed their minds – they still openly say that school funding should be “restrained” to encourage more efficient spending. They are now openly questioning the way supreme court justices are chosen. We don’t need to guess what will happen if they get the power to set school spending levels – we’ve experienced it.
Experience also shows us that conservative lawmakers will do the least amount possible to comply with the court’s dictates. Not all experts agree that the 2019 education bill was, in fact, sufficient. It might take education back to the level we saw in 2008, but it isn’t pushing the envelope. It isn’t making our state stronger, our workforce more competitive, in a 21st century world that is also struggling with issues like preschool education and funding for state colleges.
We can do more. We need to do more. For our schools. For our roads. For our healthcare system. For the people of Kansas, who can’t afford to have their money given to big business and special interest groups.
Being a relative newcomer to the political stage, I’m not beholden to special interests. I care about one thing – the people of my district. When experience fails us, it’s time to bring in fresh perspectives for a stronger, better educated Kansas.