Because the Kansas Supreme Court did not instruct legislators last month precisely how much additional funding it would take to ensure adequate public education -- opting instead to let a lower court figure it out -- lawmakers are ignoring that part of the ruling.
Instead, the Kansas Legislature has honed in on the $129 million the justices identified that unfairly was affecting poor districts in the state. And it has renewed debates about Common Core standards, offering tax credits to parents who pull their children out of public schools to attend private institutions, removing due process rights currently afforded teachers, once again decreasing funds required for pensions, and slashing transportation funding.
House and Senate negotiators were ironing out differences between their respective bills Saturday but no matter what emerged, it is a safe bet it would not include a return to the base aid per pupil amount written into law and approved by the high court. Any high fives and slaps on the back legislators offered each other for passing a bill glorifying conservative principles and squeezing local governments should make the lawmakers ashamed of themselves instead.
Because here is how it plays out in Hays: Had Topeka followed through on the funding they guaranteed by law, USD 489 would have received an additional $2.9 million this school year and approximately the same for the upcoming year.
Since lawmakers reneged in order to support Gov. Sam Brownback's massive income tax cuts, Hays has a $1.3 million shortfall for next year. Administrators and school board members have gone through the budget, pulled out all the fixed cost items and mandated programs -- and are down to eliminating staff positions to make up the deficit.
Last week, individual teachers began receiving notices. Almost 20 tenured and non-tenured educators have been told they won't be on the payroll come July 1.
Administrators are doing their utmost to keep student-teacher ratios close to the levels they are currently. USD 489 Curriculum Director Shanna Dinkel told The Hays Daily News on Friday that elementary schools will have 21.65 students per teacher. If the district hadn't needed to have a reduction in force, that ratio would have been 20.4:1. Next year's middle school will be 25.4:1 and the high school will be 23.35:1.
Superintendent Dean Katt is attempting to make the best of a bad situation, but said: "We'll have to watch what the Legislature is doing."
That is a horrible way to be expected to run a school district. Lawmakers already have eliminated the state's primary funding source with the income tax cuts, and now are transferring the ramifications of that unsustainable and unnecessary act down to the local level.
The patrons of USD 489 should be up in arms. If one of these approximately 20 teachers aren't a family member, neighbor or friend, they certainly are not much more removed from you. Particularly if the school your child attends was where these noble professionals work -- for now. For no reason other than to kowtow to a power-hungry governor, the Legislature has opened fire on public education. Rather than fulfill the consitutionally mandated job requirement to provide for suitable education, they're arguing over trivial matters.
To our state senators and representatives, understand this: This has just gotten personal in Hays USD 489. You are forcing a solid district with superb teachers and excellent outcomes to shortchange this community's children. There is no excuse for the reckless agenda and predictable results you pursue in the Statehouse. Shame doesn't even begin to describe what you should be feeling.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry