Members of the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday engaged in their almost annual ritual of agreeing to ask Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature for more money for public schools than they have the remotest chance of getting.
Trouble is, this request is every bit as justified as most of the previous requests.
The board voted 7-3 to ask that the governor and the Legislature add more than $670 million to public school funding in the next state budget. That’s an increase of more than 20 percent, and it would include general state aid as well as money for school lunch programs and professional development. As an Associated Press story notes, the state now spends more than $3 billion a year on public schools, and lawmakers recently approved a $14-per-pupil increase in the 2015 budget.
The Legislature, long controlled by Republicans who have preferred tax cuts to investments in either public schools or higher education, is now in the hands of conservatives who are preoccupied with income-tax cuts and are even less inclined to boost education funding. Lawmakers shrugged off the state board’s request last year and can be expected to do the same this year.
They also can be expected to argue that declining state revenue in the next few years precludes a substantial boost in funding for education. And they can be expected to downplay the fact that the historic income tax cuts they approved the last two years are the cause of the decline in state revenue.
The one element in the state board’s favor is the ruling in January by a panel of Shawnee County District Court judges in a school funding lawsuit brought by parents and multiple school districts.
The judges said lawmakers had failed to honor their funding commitment stemming from a school finance case a decade ago. The judges ordered the lawmakers to honor the funding plan the Legislature approved after the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling in the initial lawsuit that state funding levels were unconstitutionally low.
The Legislature has appealed to the Supreme Court, which is to hear arguments in the fall. Its ruling, to be issued about the time the 2014 Legislature convenes next January, could make for quite a showdown.