Kansas legislators have the right idea in trying to whittle down the number of school districts in the state, but we’re not convinced that their reasons are in the best interests of our children.
Asking school districts to consolidate is always a tough issue that can end up with a small town giving up a bit of its pride and spirit that goes with having a school to call its own. The payoff should be in more efficient school administration that doesn’t sacrifice educational values.
What’s suspect about the latest attempt to consolidate school districts, called the Kansas School District Realignment Act, or House Bill 2504, is a motivation that seems more aimed toward putting money in the state’s pockets than improving education. Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, introduced the bill last week, and the House Education Committee is set to consider it next week.
The bill would sharply reduce the number of districts across the state from 286 to 132. That’s a good start. What’s wrong with this bill is the way it wants to handle buildings left empty by consolidating. The bill would give those to the state to put up for sale. Any bond debt that is attached to the buildings, or to improve them, would stay with the communities that passed them. Some communities could end up paying off debt and have nothing to show for it.
The bill has no report on how much money this would save.
That may be because of lack of evidence that consolidating school districts saves money. The National Education Policy Center concluded in a 2011 report that consolidating districts offered little real savings statewide. It could even do damage in small, poorer communities that usually benefit from having smaller schools. Its recommendation was that consolidation be handled on a case-by-case basis and not through state decree.
Kansas can do with fewer districts. But school consolidation has to be based on making school administration more efficient and less bureaucratic but still create a better learning environment for both teachers and students.
States that have seen successful consolidation have done so more with incentives than by a top-down directive. New York lured districts to consolidate by promising a 46-percent increase in state money to help with the transition.
This bill seems more intent on making money for the state.
The state does have a revenue problem. But that rests with our leaders’ decision six years ago to eliminate the state income tax for 300,000 of the state’s wealthiest earners. That experiment isn’t working, and it’s time to admit that. It shouldn’t be paid for at the expense of our children’s education.
The goal of this bill is good but not the sweeping method it uses to gain it, nor the questionable motivations behind it.