We sent questions last week to candidates for state representative in Kansas House Districts 19, 21, 24 and 25, all of which cover sections of northeast Johnson County. The questions we selected came from the large number of questions submitted by readers.
By the deadline to respond to the second question, we had received the following responses that 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? Are schools currently funded adequately?
House District 19
The new formula should remove the cap on money that local Districts raise or choose to raise after the state-wide funding is satisfied. This question is more about local control and local input on what is to be the standard of their community. I agree I would like to see all Public school standards rise. To take away the ability of a local community to help improve their schools would be unwise.
Schools are not funded adequately. I will work hard for a comprehensive school finance formula that includes solid and stable funding for special education, early childhood education, and gifted education, and reestablishes our commitment to the Parents As Teachers program. These are important programs that should be available to all residents, regardless of where they live in our state or ability to pay.
If we do that, our local school districts will no longer need to use the Local Option Budget for these basic educational needs, and will instead be able to use the LOB as it was originally intended—to support extra programs and educational opportunities which our local communities have determined are needed for our students and the future success of our area. In short, If the formula is properly funded, there is no need to remove the LOB cap.
Students in the Shawnee Mission School District are also blessed with strong private financial support from parents and the business community. As a PTA volunteer, I know first-hand the dedication of our residents to ensuring that our children receive the highest-quality education possible. If the legislature does its job, and fully funds schools, our educational foundations, educational enhancement funds, and parent-teacher associations can continue to be free to support new and innovative additional programs, further helping prepare our children for the future.
I would appreciate your vote on November 8.
The amount of money local districts can raise is called the local option budget, or LOB. When the LOB concept was first introduced in 1992 the idea was that basic educational costs would be covered by the state, and local taxpayers could choose to enhance their local school’s budgets through increased taxes. At the time, the state added money into the LOBs of poorer districts in order to maintain a certain degree of equity in the educational opportunities of Kansas’ students. In 2008, when the recession hit, the state stopped supplementing districts who didn’t have the local financial resources to fully fund themselves. Wealthier districts, meanwhile, continued to add to their LOBs.
For years, districts all across the state have had to use their LOB money to pay for basic general expenses, like teacher’s salaries. This was NOT the intent of LOBs. In fact, it is the constitutional responsibility of the state to fund public schools adequately, which clearly is not happening. The LOBs, though, have allowed schools to continue to function – which may seem like a good thing. I assert, however, that it’s not. I assert that LOBs, especially in Johnson County, have acted as a smokescreen. Our students have not suffered from the utter lack of resources that students in the rest of the state have had to endure, which is fine if we only care about taking care of our own kids, but I think Johnson Countians are better than that. For instance, when I think about my two daughters’ futures, I know that they will be better off if they live in a state (and a country) where the other adults they live and work with have been well-educated. It doesn’t do any good to have had a great education and to be a strong critical thinker if the rest of the workforce is struggling. It doesn’t do any good to be an informed citizen and to try to make good voting choices if the rest of society operates from a protectionist disposition, devoid of rational, thoughtful discourse.
Parents are supposed to look out for their kids’ well-being, so it’s not surprising that so many people in Johnson County favor uncapped local financing. But it is the government’s job to look out for our collective well-being, and I think that means, at the very least, keeping the cap in place.
House District 21
Kansas is definitely not funding public education adequately or equitably. If this is allowed to continue, it will detrimentally affect the futures of our children, the values of our homes, and the economy of our state. Kansas’ economic situation will not improve until we reverse the state’s 2012 tax cuts and replace them with a tax structure providing the funding needed to make our public schools, colleges and universities competitive with those of other states. Investing in public schools and teachers is not only the right thing to do for our children, it is the best thing we can do to protect the economic future of Kansas. Modern businesses, heavily invested in intellectual capital, will not locate in areas with sub-standard public schools, and undervalued and underfunded colleges and universities. Johnson County is a prime example of an area whose prosperity is based in large part on the quality and reputation of its public schools. Kansas will continue to suffer economically, especially in the long term, until it reinstates the funding necessary to maintain a superior, statewide system of public schools.
Local control of our schools is essential. Once equitable and adequate funding levels are established at the state level that guarantee a quality education for every child in Kansas, local communities should have the right to further fund their public schools based on the will of the people within those communities. Communities which wish to further upgrade the quality of their public schools should be allowed to do so and to set the funding levels necessary to achieve their educational goals and vision. As your State Representative I will use my background as a Shawnee Mission teacher, 3 term Shawnee Mission NEA President, Executive Board member of the Shawnee Mission East PTA and parent of a Shawnee Mission East graduate to fight for equity and adequacy for all Kansas students and for as much local control as possible for the patrons of the Shawnee Mission School District and the 21st District.
When I go door to door, the top two issues I hear about are the budget and education. It is clear we are willing to invest our resources in high-quality public education. This is one of many reasons the Shawnee Mission School District is such a great place to live. If the Legislature removed the cap on local funds, our community would jump at the chance to invest further in our Shawnee Mission schools. However, I am concerned this would again call education funding equity into question. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on equity this summer, and due to leadership from moderates, a temporary fix was achieved to keep schools open. The last thing we want to do is land ourselves right back in court. Constant litigation isn’t good for anyone, especially students and teachers. On that note, when the Supreme Court rules on adequacy, it is important for legislators to respond constructively. An independent judiciary is crucial to the stability of democracy, and the legislative and judicial branches must not only fulfill their roles but also respect one another.
Educating children shouldn’t be a partisan issue. No matter our personal backgrounds, where we live, or our political affiliations, we should all be dedicated to ensuring the next generation is set up for success. The Legislature must tackle writing a new school funding formula immediately. Even before the session starts, we need to take input from our teachers, families, and school districts, and begin collaborating. We in Johnson County must determine our priorities – such as local flexibility in the raising and use of local dollars – and articulate those to our colleagues from other parts of the state. We must also support House leadership that will allow our priorities to move forward. In recent years, House leadership has quashed open debate and stopped the legislative process from working the way it should. The current Speaker of the House has retired, so we will have a new Speaker. I promise to cast my vote for a Speaker who will listen to Shawnee Mission’s priorities and support adequate and equitable public education funding with local flexibility.
House District 24
These two questions must be addressed in reverse order. First, schools are not adequately funded. In the Shawnee Mission School District some of the lack of funding has been absorbed via retirement incentives, which has allowed SMSD to reduce staff expenditures, as experienced teachers are typically on a higher pay scale then newer teachers. There are fewer elective block times available, band and strings begins in fifth grade now, instead of fourth, and class size limits are in general larger then what parents deem ideal. PTAs and Education Foundations have taken it upon themselves to raise funds to combat shrinking resources as much as possible, but auctions and bake sales cannot replace secure and reliable funds for the essential services provided in our schools.
If the Shawnee Mission School District had been adequately funded under the previous finance formula, we would not have needed to undertake the belt tightening that has occurred over the last six years.
The local option budget, derived from local property taxes, was initially created as just that, an “option,” for districts to implement additional funding, after they had received adequate funding from the State. Over the last many years, as the State has failed to meet constitutionally mandated funding requirements, districts have come to rely on their local budget to meet mandatory funding needs.
Restoring adequate funding would allow districts to again utilize local funds as the “option” they were intended to be, to provide for additional enrichment, as opposed to needing the funds for fundamental basics such as staff salaries.
Kansas’ revenue crises has caused pressure to build on every funding source, driving up property taxes, and creating a demand for any “option” available to meet our District’s needs. We must address the source of the pressure and address the underlying revenue crises, so that adequate funding levels can be restored, and return local option budgets to their initially intended function.
Yes, I believe there should be an opportunity to lift or remove the cap on money local districts can raise once state-wide funding is satisfied. We can all agree that every Kansas child should have a first class education that makes them ready to compete in their chosen field. To meet that goal, we have to learn from what did not work in the previous funding formula and work towards a solution that makes sense for Kansas school children.
The education of children in the Shawnee Mission School District is a top priority. Identifying and implementing a better, more sustainable funding model for K-12 education will be a primary focus. The current school funding formula is not adequate and must be improved.
The first step to do that is to get beyond the partisan back and forth that happens too often in Topeka on this issue. I will work with stakeholders across the Shawnee Mission school district and members in both political parties. Second, all options have to be on the table. Before jumping to any conclusions, my plan is to evaluate our current status – things like the amount of money allocated to districts today and where or how that money is being used – and identify ways to improve.
Clearly, this is a complex issue. A positive resolution will take work, but I look forward to that effort. About nine years ago, I asked a CFO at a large school district, how much funding is enough for you to do what you need to do? His response, “We can never have enough and we will always fight for more than what we receive regardless of what that number is.” I have never forgotten that response because it shows that finding common ground can be difficult. Given the many interested parties, it is critical to listen to those different voices and points of view to find a formula and funding amount that makes sense. I’m confident we will find the right combination of adequate funding and positive leadership to get there.
House District 25
I have long advocated for additional operating funds for our schools. While people argue and courts deliberate, a generation of children is growing up and attending schools in increasingly crowded classrooms, with shrinking program choices and ever higher demands from the world they enter upon graduation.
Payments to catch up on the unfunded liability the state has to KPERS, bond and interest payments and changes to accounting systems certainly increase the total spending on education in our state budget, but none of these categories can be spent to cover the basic general operating budget for our schools.
Operating funds have been frozen in place for two years at a level already ruled constitutionally inadequate by the court. In the meantime, fixed costs have gone up and student enrollment has increased. Districts all around the state have had to make significant changes to schedules and staffing in order to cope.
By ensuring that the funding for basic operations is sufficient, the LOB can be used in the manner always intended – for enhancements desired by local districts. The LOB is currently set at 33% of the actual budget and should be providing ample funding for “extras,” however the budget stress caused by inadequate funding requires districts to levy those funds just to make ends meet. The cap is not our problem.
Did not respond.