It was illegal. It was my first year of teaching in rural Kentucky—1969. And rookie teachers got bus duty. Everyday when the last bell rang, I went out patrolling so big kids did not cut in line, crowding out the little kids along the bus loading lot.
Campbell County Kentucky had nearly all rural kids but Kentucky only funded a set percentage for bussing. Thus, my school was desperately short on busses. Sixty-passenger busses loaded up with 90+ kids. When seats filled up, they stood in the aisle. And those kids who got off first waited to load last in the door well—way in front of the yellow line that was labeled "do not stand beyond this line."
County police, in plain site of this disaster, directed those desperately overloaded busses onto the highway. This was so illegal. But what could a school administrator or the police do? The crime was at the state level: failure to fund educational costs enough to keep their childrens’ school busses legal!
Today, Campbell County is a bedroom community to Cincinnati and I have no doubt that my old school is compliant.
But the proposed education reform package appears to be loaded with similar treat-all-schools-the-same policies that will press many Kansas schools into diverting funds to cover their higher transportation costs. Other schools such as Dodge City with over 75 percent of students speaking English as a second language, and Wichita-Topeka-Kansas City schools with more "at risk" students will also have to divert regular base aid to serve their students, leaving their average student population poorer.
There are two factors at play: adequacy of funding and equity of funding. Kansas schools were moving toward adequate funding before the 2007 downturn pushed levels pack to the 1990 levels. But our current formula passed the Kansas Supreme Court test for equity and limited the discrepancy between the rich and poor districts.
The proposed education reform package appears to be a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer package, locking in less-than-adequate funding for the schools serving high-need students, but making the sky the limit for the rich districts.
For those who remember "It’s a Wonderful Life," you will recognize the dilemma. Those serving high-need students under the current formula are like Jimmy Stewart’s character standing up on his savings-and-loan counter, pointing out that the money is invested in each person’s home–or in our case, children.
But we are apparently in an era where Mr. Potter the banker is in ascendency. Recall the desolation of that Christmas future. The Dickensian philosophy of Mr. Potter in "Wonderful Life"–that every dollar spent by schools is a dollar not invested in business—is precisely the party line being heard from the anti-education lobby.
And apparently the Governor is listening to the Mr. Potters and Ebenezer Scrooges.
If the Legislature does not reject this proposal, the courts likely will. The adequacy of funding is still on schedule for court. And if the LOB lid gets lifted, there is great likelihood that the equity of funding will also be challenged.
The current school funding formula is not broken.
But perhaps, as a trainer of Kansas teachers, I had better begin training my student teachers how to overload school busses.