MainStream panel tells Prairie Village audience school funding, Common Core fights will be back in 2014

Bob Beatty, Mark Peterson and Michael Smith take questions from the audience during the MainStream legislative panel.
Bob Beatty, Mark Peterson and Michael Smith take questions from the audience during the MainStream legislative panel.

“In a state that prides itself on rugged individualism … we have a socialized system.” That is how Dr. Mark Peterson of Washburn University described Kansas school funding with its effort at equalization.

Peterson appeared at Colonial Church in Prairie Village with Dr. Bob Beatty, also of Washburn, and Dr. Michael Smith of Emporia State University at MainStream Coalition’s first legislative forum focused on the 2014 session. The 2014 Kansas Legislature will be fighting over some of the same issues that were front and center last year if the panel’s predictions come true. Chief among those will be school funding.

Peterson made his point by reciting the disparity in how much money is spent per child on education in Kansas between school districts. Those that get the most money are small districts, usually in western Kansas. The 20 districts spending the most per student are getting nearly double the amount that is spent on the 20 with the lowest expenditures – and Johnson County districts are at the low end, he said, along with other more populated districts.

“A great deal of money in Kansas is being spent to maintain the past,” Peterson said, supporting fewer children in the west. “We have a significant problem. We are not a growing state.” And the state has put more limits on local districts’ ability to raise money. Smith added that education and Medicaid dominate the state budget.

Smith also predicted a renewed fight in the legislature against the Common Core academic standards that were initiated by the states and are being widely used around the country, including in the Shawnee Mission district. “A lot of the things being argued are not factually correct,” Smith said. Common Core was not initiated by President Obama or even during his administration, Smith said, but the perception is different among the conservative opponents.

“The big thing that is coming is property tax,” Smith predicted. The cuts to the state income tax, which he said supplies half of state revenue, will lead to property tax increases to pay for services, like education. He cited Texas as an example of a state with no income tax but high property taxes in wealthy suburbs that want good schools.

Beatty said many legislators believe that plenty of money is being spent on education now, even though the base state aid per pupil has dropped in recent years and is below the amount set by the court in a previous school funding ruling.