Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Tax support

Kansans are saying they want more funding for public schools. Are legislators listening?

September 12, 2004

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Kansas legislators who say they haven't heard any support for tax increases to help boost K-12 school funding in the state may have to change their tune.

In a just-released survey conducted by Emporia State University's Jones Institute for Educational Excellence, 47 percent of the respondents said they would support a tax increase to provide better school funding. That represented a significantly larger segment than the 36 percent who opposed a tax increase.

There were some other interesting findings in the survey. Kansans love their public schools. In fact, 67 percent of those responding to the survey gave their local schools a grade of A or B. Legislators didn't fare so well. About 40 percent of those surveyed gave the state Legislature a D or an F.

So, people love their public schools. They love them so much that almost half of them are even willing to pay higher taxes to boost school funding. What would this seem to suggest to legislators who would like to bring up their failing grades with the public?

The state, of course, is awaiting a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on whether its school finance system is constitutionally flawed. One of the issues that came up several times during arguments before the court was whether a court mandate on how schools should be funded would step on the Legislature's constitutional responsibility to "make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state."

The Kansas Constitution certainly charges the Legislature with that duty, but, at least according to a sample from the Emporia State survey, almost half of Kansans seem to think the Legislature has failed in that task. If the court agrees, the door will have been opened to judicial action that many legislators -- and many Kansans -- may not like.

Although it's unclear what course the Supreme Court will set for Kansas education funding, it seems unlikely that the status quo will prevail. It also seems likely that whatever action the court orders will require additional state funding for schools. The 523 people who responded to the Emporia State survey is a small sample, but it indicates Kansans are willing to pay more taxes to support schools. If the courts pursue a similar strategy, perhaps legislators will have to listen.

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