Kansas gubernatorial candidates on K-12 school funding: Democrat Jim Ward

We’re continuing with the Kansas gubernatorial candidates’ responses to our invitation to share their thoughts on how to handle the Supreme Court’s ruling directing the legislature to invest more money in K-12 schools.

Here is what Democrat Jim Ward, the House minority leader from Wichita, had to say:

Kansans have heard enough bickering about K-12 funding in our state. They’re ready for leadership and action.

Our schools have been chronically underfunded for more than seven years, and now is the time to honor the Supreme Court’s mandate and do right by our children. This means we have to develop a bipartisan school finance formula that gives our hardworking teachers the resources they need and empowers all children to make the most of their God-given talents, no matter where they live.

My plan to revitalize our education system is built around four principles: adequacy, fairness, sustainability, and accountability.

First, it’s crucial to take the individual circumstances of each classroom into account. The number of students should determine baseline aid, but an array of other factors must be considered if we want to promote equity and help every child reach his or her full potential.

For example, low-income districts face unique obstacles such as a lack of property tax revenue, shortages of essential classroom materials, and high proportions of students who lack access to learning tools like reliable broadband, private tutors, test prep guides, etc. Meanwhile, some Kansas schools have a substantial number of students who are learning English, and we have to provide the resources they need (including teachers with specialized training).

It’s the state’s responsibility to ensure that students aren’t unfairly penalized because they happen to attend school in diverse, low-income districts. There are vast disparities in local tax revenue around the state, and we can’t expect the Kansans who live in less wealthy areas to assume a heavy, regressive tax burden to fund their schools. We must close this gap with greater investments in the districts that serve our most vulnerable children.

But we also have a duty to be responsible stewards of Kansans’ tax dollars, and this means holding districts accountable for improving academic outcomes.

This is an area where our education system is falling short – particularly when it comes to the performance of minority students. Only 29 percent of our high school graduates met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in 2017, but this proportion collapses to 6 percent among African American students, 14 percent among Hispanic students, and 12 percent among American Indian/Alaska Native students.

One of the key metrics emphasized in the state’s new education plan is postsecondary achievement, and the data suggest that more than two-thirds of our students are ill-prepared for college. This is unacceptable.

The Supreme Court’s October ruling that our school finance formula remains unconstitutionally inadequate and inequitable was only the latest in a long series of similar decisions. Kansas has spent millions of dollars fighting endless legal battles over education funding, and the threat of school closures has been lurking in the background all along.

Kansans deserve better. It’s time for a permanent solution to this crisis. It’s time for a school finance formula that keeps us out of the courts and works for all Kansas children.