Kansas public school officials needn’t worry excessively about whether the Legislature will boost funding to improve educational equity in compliance with the Kansas Supreme Court’s March 7 ruling. The $129 million that the state Department of Education has said would be enough to satisfy the Supreme Court’s demand is in preliminary proposals.
Education officials might, however, have to worry about the strings attached to that money.
The picture will become clearer this week, but at least one proposal, introduced by House Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican, contains provisions that conservatives have unsuccessfully pushed in the past. Among them are measures to expand opportunities to open state-funded charter schools and to offer tax credits to those who donate money for scholarships that would be available to students at any private school that “provides education to elementary and secondary students.”
Other measures would significantly change teacher licensing, particularly for specialists in technical areas or science professionals that could enable them to teach without undergoing education training that is considered standard. Further, the bill calls for a panel to review school district expenditures and report its findings to the Legislature with recommendations on how to more efficiently use state money.
Some of these proposals are more controversial than others, and some have broad appeal to the conservative majority. Legislative Republicans are not of one mind, however, on the charter school provision, and at least one matter, teacher licensing, is best left to the Kansas Board of Education.
But it is naïve for education officials or legislative Democrats to expect Republicans to simply approve spending of more than $100 million — an investment that many of them don’t believe schools need — without wanting to make some changes many also think are not just necessary but long overdue.
That, while understandable, is ill advised. All of the issues in the bill, including charter schools, deserve to be debated. But they ought to be considered apart from a funding bill that wouldn’t exist were it not for the Supreme Court ruling. As for greater education reform, it, too, is a valid issue. But it’s not something the Legislature can or should even try to do in the waning weeks of the 2014 session.
Lawmakers’ challenge — indeed, their duty — at this moment isn’t to reform K-12 education in Kansas. It’s to equitably fund it.