Amazingly, a few folks still assert that Kansas has no statewide funding crisis in K-12
It is difficult to argue that the crisis is all-smoke-and-no-fire when the flames are visible around us. In this last month, many school districts across Kansas have held public meetings to discuss how to handle the lack of revenue. The last cut of $38 million to K-12 for the 2009-2010 school year places schools in a position of owing contracted personnel more than the state will reimburse.
With state tax revenue declining, the cash is not there. General state funds due to schools November 1 went out late, half on November 6 and the other half on December 2. The payout to schools due December 1 was half paid on December 4 with the other half to be paid on December 30. A state special education payout due December 15 will be paid out in January 2010.
Some schools had saved limited reserves from prior years. But except for a few rich districts, those rainy day funds will soon be exhausted. To get through just this month, many schools that had funds in dedicated “silos” meant for designated purposes had to rob those “silos” to make mid-December payroll—a practice that you aren’t supposed to do—and then replenish those funds with the next state payout. K.S.D.E. has surveyed schools. About ten districts do not have any such resources to make payroll in mid-December. K.S.D.E. has tried to arrange a late but earlier-than-others payout.
The second assertion is: they cut funding and teachers but the schools are still operating, so that proves the schools didn’t need that higher funding. That argument should ring hollow to many across Kansas who are in other businesses that laid off personnel. The remaining factory workers are working overloads, raw materials and stock are being drawn down, and needed repairs are being deferred, making future conditions hazardous.
The same is happening in schools. Kansas schools lost over 3,700 personnel between last spring and this fall and more layoffs are underway. Class sizes continue to grow as fewer teachers now cover the load—especially worrisome in lower grades where larger class size means less student attention and a fallback in reading scores. $6.6 million has been “saved” by delaying purchasing new textbooks—students will be re-using books 6–7 years older or more. Not upgrading school buses “saved” $7.2 million—more old school buses will be on the road. Some districts that transported all students outside a one mile radius have now pulled back; their students may have to walk up to two-and-a-half miles.
The pipeline of teaching talent is also hit by this constriction. Except in a few shortage areas, good student teachers will have difficulty finding jobs. And good rookie teachers were laid off because they were not tenured. This talent will find jobs elsewhere. The longer this funding crisis continues, the fewer will return to teaching.
The last cut of $2 million to higher education and $38 million to K–12 brings Kansas to the funding floor of 2006 to receive federal stimulus money; any further cuts and we have to send big bags of money back to Washington.
In the worst cases, some Kansas school districts may face either issuing no-fund mill warrants or consolidation.
The next time you hear someone assert that Kansas schools have oodles of money hidden away, feel free to ask them just what part of this education funding crisis they do not understand.