School finance, and then some

Senate conservatives flex their muscles

By The Mercury

We don’t know the details of the school finance bill the Kansas House of Representatives will approve, but it’s hard to imagine it being less constructive than the Senate version.

The Senate bill, approved late Thursday, would increase aid to the state’s poorest school districts by $129 million. On the plus side, that would bring the state into compliance with the Kansas Supreme Court ruling. However, it would do so in part by cutting other school funding, such as money for online classes and bus systems in districts statewide.

And it exacts an ideologically-driven pound of flesh from Kansas public education by prohibiting schools from spending tax dollars to implement the Common Core education standards through 2017.

That amendment was pushed by conservatives who’ve opposed Common Core since the Kansas Board of Education adopted the standards four years ago. Conservatives in Kansas and other states regard Common Core as a set of federal standards, in part because Common Core has the support of federal officials. Opponents also believe the standards supercede local and state control of curriculum issues. That is incorrect.

Unfortunately, the possibility that federal officials might approve of the standards because the governors, educators and parents in Kansas and other states who developed them did a masterful job hasn’t registered. Neither, apparently, has the likelihood that prohibiting schools from investing in Common Core, would diminish the education Kansas students will receive.

In short, while begrudging schools money to satisfy the Supreme Court, the conservative Senate majority wants to remind public schools of its power over them.

“We are in control of the purse, and with that control comes responsibility and accountability,” said state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative Republican from Hiawatha.

The Senate bill demonstrates that not just by sabotaging Common Core but by the inclusion of a provision to give families whose children attend private schools a tax break of up to $2,500 a year. Such a proposal has merit, but it doesn’t belong in a school finance bill.

The plan the House was considering today — and is subject to change — is more generous to the poorest school districts and less meddlesome.

Senate Majority Leader Anthony Hensley, who also is a teacher, understandably wants the Legislature to approve the court-mandated funding without “all the rest of this stuff.” That’s not going to happen.

Most Kansans would be content, however, if the Legislature, which is in no position to pontificate about education responsibility and accountability, would leave educational matters, including Common Core, to the Kansas Department of Education, the Kansas Board of Education and local school districts.

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