Proponents of increased funding for all levels of education in the state appear ready to pull out all the stops to sell that idea to state legislators.
It won’t be easy.
Not only is the state facing the loss next year of nearly $500 million in federal stimulus money, much of which was used to shore up education budgets, but Gov.-elect Sam Brownback already is talking about freezing state spending and revamping the state’s school finance formula for public K-12 schools.
Against that backdrop, efforts by the Kansas Board of Regents to get back some of the money it lost over the last two years seem unlikely to succeed. Regents Chairman Gary Sherrer lobbied legislators last week on behalf of a $50 million increase in the regents budget, which would restore about half of what has been cut.
Also last week, a group of public school districts from across the state decided to employ a considerably bigger stick in an attempt to get the attention of state legislators. As Kansans were casting their votes on Nov. 2, a group known as Schools for Fair Funding already saw the writing on the wall and picked that day to file a new lawsuit alleging that the Legislature wasn’t fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund an adequate education for Kansas youngsters.
Schools for Fair Funding is a coalition of 63 school districts with a total of more than 152,000 students. It’s the second time Kansas school districts have gone to court to fight for school funding. In 2006, the Kansas Supreme Court case ended in a settlement that called for $755 million in new school funding in the next three years. Instead, economic conditions have resulted in $300 million being cut from school budgets during that time.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek changes to the current school finance formula, which was designed to equalize funding and educational opportunities in school districts across the state, large and small, rich and poor. Instead the group says it simply wants the existing formula to be properly funded.
It’s unfortunate that the fight for K-12 funding has once again landed in court, but it’s understandable that school districts thought they had to take a strong stand. Regents’ representatives probably wish they could wield the same kind of constitutional club as they try to convince lawmakers of the need to increase funding for higher education in the state.