Johnson County education groups fear Brownback’s K-12 proposal is designed to pit schools against other state services

Gov. Sam Brownback talking to the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives in 2016.
Gov. Sam Brownback talking to the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives in 2016.

Two pro-public education Johnson County parent groups on Wednesday sounded the alarm that Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to increase annual K-12 spending by $600 million over five years may be a ploy to build support for a constitutional amendment that would remove the state’s “suitable funding” provision.

Following his announcement of the budget proposal in Tuesday’s State of the State address, Brownback found himself facing stiff criticism from Republican leaders in the legislature that have been his traditional allies, including Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park, who called the spending proposal reckless. The budget proposal does not detail how the state would pay for $400 million of the eventual $600 million annual increase, and Brownback said he would not support any increase in taxes.

Those facts lead some education advocates to believe Brownback’s administration is attempting to set up a feud between K-12 education and other state services, which would likely face additional cuts if the state looks to reallocate existing revenues to fund the school system.

“Governor Brownback’s long record of working against public education in Kansas is indisputable, so his sudden call for increased school funding leaves us skeptical,” said Patty Logan, chair of Stand Up Blue Valley. “The governor conveniently failed to name a funding source for the majority of his proposed $600 million increase to Kansas schools. This suggests a possible set-up in which public schools are pitted against all other state services for funding. Is this an effort to soften the ground for a constitutional amendment to remove the ‘suitable funding’ provision? We will be watching closely to see how this plays out.”

Those concerns were shared by members of Education First Shawnee Mission, who said that while they support the idea of investing more money in Kansas schools, it was poor leadership for Brownback to create a scenario where necessary services would be competing against each other.

“It is a good first step, hearing Governor Brownback finally acknowledging the need to add $600 Million back into the grossly underfunded Kansas Schools, partially restoring our school funding back to pre-2008 levels,” said Megan Peters, Education First Shawnee Mission’s incoming chair. “However these are empty words without addressing how to finance the plan. While we advocate on behalf of primary education, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not responsible governance. Pitting education funding against other critical services like access to health care, emergency services, roads and highways, and higher education is irresponsible and weak leadership. Now is the time to embrace bi-partisan, collaborative revenue generating plans to ensure the long-term growth and stability of our State. We look forward to working with the Kansas legislature to solve the revenue gap and support public education excellence for Kansas.”

Brownback felt compelled to issue his own statement on his budget Wednesday after legislators lambasted his proposal:

While I recognize the proposed budget has drawn criticism from legislators on both sides of the aisle, complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional. I support the rule of law, and I will not stand to see schools closed because of inaction on our part. Thankfully the economy is stronger than it has been, however we recognize the additional money to schools will strain our ability to address other core government functions in future budgets.

We look forward to continuing these conversations with the Legislature to find a solution that meets the Court’s demands and keeps our schools open. It is neither constructive nor wise to hold hostage other critical initiatives, due to political gamesmanship over disagreement on the school funding piece of my proposal.