We sent questions last week to candidates for state senate in Districts 6, 7 and 10, all of which cover at least a portion of northeast Johnson County. The questions we selected came from a large number submitted by readers.
By the deadline for the second question, we had received the following responses. They appear below. Today’s question is:
Should a new school finance formula remove the cap on the amount of money that local districts can raise once the state-wide funding is satisfied?
Senate District 10
Before we can even discuss the local option budget, we have to address the most critical portion of this statement: once the state-wide funding is satisfied. My opponent represented the only vote, Republican or Democrat, against the current fix for Kansas Schools. How do we get to a satisfactory state-wide funding method? First, we need to work together as a state. In her public statements and through mail, my opponent has accused other schools of “stealing” money away from Johnson County. In 2008, she blamed Wakeeny. In 2016, she blames Wichita.
We can give Sen. Pilcher-Cook til 2020, and she might blame Wamego. Blaming students and families in other areas of the state is a way to make sure that we will continue to struggle with a satisfactory state-wide formula that benefits Johnson County. My senate district, which contains Shawnee Mission School District and Desoto is a perfect example of how our first goal has to be in shaping a strong budget that provides adequacy and equity. If we start our negotiating practice by thinking about LOB first, we are unlikely to reach a consensus in the state house and will continue to fight education funding issues for the foreseeable future.
As state senator, my job will be to work with broad coalitions in the state house to come up with a plan that benefits Shawnee Mission school district, Desoto school district, and yes, even Wichita school district. Our state has a lot of relocation, and many residents in my district went to school in other areas of the state. My opponent fails to understand that if we improve the educational standard for everyone, we all benefit. A student who grows up in Wellington or Waverly might move to Johnson County as an adult, and become a part of our economy. While walking doors, I met a young woman who had relocated from Winfield. Making sure someone like her has a high-quality education, no matter where she is in the state, helps make sure that the Kansas economy stays strong.
Local control should not be local government control – instead, it should be control by the people of their local government. In education, it is giving parents power to decide how their children are going to be educated and how to handle sensitive situations. The local cap is a government mechanism that takes away that control. Removing it would give more control back to parents and teachers.
Local control to increase taxes should only be allowed by a vote of the people. Local school boards decide how the money is spent. And when school administrators receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries with large pay raises decided behind closed doors, and teachers do not get pay increases, local school board members should be held accountable by the people with their vote.
In regards to statewide funding, I was the only “No” vote in the Senate on the court-ordered education bill, because it took $1.7 million from Shawnee Mission schools and sent it to Wichita for property tax relief – not education.
More than half of the Kansas budget is K-12 education. The current funding structure is unsustainable. Many rural school districts have dramatically increased their public sector/school expenditures when they lack the private sector employment to support such an expansion in local government services. The court’s solution has been to order massive increases in expenditures which forces the Legislature to take money from Johnson County schools and send it to rural schools. This will eventually cause statewide devastation to our education system and our economy. A new funding program needs to be implemented to fix this structural problem.
Judges were willing to shutdown schools over <1% difference in funding – a violation of the Kansas constitution, because it would have prohibited children from getting any education at all. I voted in favor of a constitutional amendment so Kansas citizens could have their say over whether they think the courts should be able to close schools. Every Senate Democrat voted against allowing the people to vote for or against this measure.
Most importantly, we need to ask the question – what are we getting for our education dollars? While funding increased dramatically over the years without a significant increase in the number of students, test scores have not improved. Common Core is not helping. We need to address this disconnect so our students are prepared to attain success.
Senate District 7
First and foremost we must fund our schools constitutionally which means meeting both adequacy and equity. That means funding our schools in a manner that enables our students to meet the Rose Standards adopted by our State School Board.
For the past two years our schools have been funded using block grants and not a funding formula. With the block grants ending, we will spend this upcoming session passing some process to fund our schools. My hope is that will mean a new funding formula that increases the base amount given to each student.
Additional funding must be added for special education, English language learners, At-Risk students, and those with significant transportation needs. Meeting the needs of all students should then allow the local option budget to be optional, and thus rarely needed for our students. Artificial or mandated caps won’t be necessary because adequate education will have been reached and all students will be properly prepared to move forward in life after high school.
As a former City Council member I am a strong defender of local control and the local leadership of every community. Voters should always have the ability to ensure there will be enough money for their schools through Local Option Budgets (LOB), free of limitations, especially when state leaders continue to fail them. But, depending on the LOB for basic funding is not the answer and can exacerbate the problem state-wide. Adequate and equitable per pupil funding should be provided through the general fund, not the LOB.
For over 25 years the State of Kansas has wasted time and tax dollars tied up in courts on the issue of public education funding. Administration after administration has skirted their constitutional obligation and dismissed the will of voters and the rulings of the courts. It wasn’t until 2009, under the leadership of Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius, that we finally met mandated levels of funding for our schools. Then the Great Recession hit, Brownback and his Republican super-majority supporters were elected, and different priorities prevailed.
Although I believe my opponent’s heart and intentions are in the right place, she continually enables her more conservative peers and their attacks on schools. When they attempted to blackmail the judiciary to control the court’s rulings, Rep. Bollier joined them (HB 2005-6/1/15). When they played shell games rather than following the court order to increase school funding, Rep. Bollier joined them (HB 2655-3/24/16). When they cut $8 million from KPRS to continue their “experiment”, Rep. Bollier joined them (H Sub SB 4-2/3/15). This past spring, she served as a member of the Education Budget Committee, yet no long-term solutions appeared. More importantly, in her seven years in the legislature, Rep. Bollier has never initiated or formally supported any bill related to education. The problem isn’t only a lack of funding; it’s a lack of leadership. It’s time for actions, not just words.
We must change our definition of success. As your State Senator, I won’t settle for (or celebrate) short term fixes to avoid hard work. I will push to overturn the block grants and return to the old formula that was never given the chance to succeed. With a return of investment of at least 3-to-1 on every education dollar spent in our communities, fully funding public schools and providing high quality, affordable public education throughout our state should become our new “experiment”.