Kansas gubernatorial candidates on K-12 school funding: Democrat Laura Kelly

Jay Senter - February 14, 2018 9:46 am

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 Laura Kelly, the Topeka state senator who is the only woman in the race, had to say:

In 2005, I began my very first legislative session. That year, our schools were in crisis and we were headed to a special session. In the end, Democrats and moderate Republicans came together to forge a path towards stronger schools. We passed a multi-year plan that invested in our kids and made great schools a top priority.

Unfortunately, in 2009 the Great Recession hit, hindering our state’s ability to keep the promises made to our schools. Then, in 2011, the Brownback/Colyer Administration cut schools even more to fund their ill-conceived tax experiment. We must correct these years of neglect and once again invest in our schools.

I greatly appreciate the Shawnee Mission Post’s interest in real, concrete solutions. Quite frankly, for a policy wonk like me, it’s refreshing and exciting. Kansas faces many challenges, but our schools are the most urgent.

First, we face a deadline in April to address the fundamental inequality of our school funding formula. To remedy the problems outlined by the Kansas Supreme Court, I would encourage support of House Bill 2445 sponsored by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway). This bill changes distribution of at-risk funding, eliminates the expanded use of Capital Outlay Funds, and updates the way we calculate the Local Option Budget. These are all important changes needed to address the Court’s ruling.

Also, a cost of living index should be built into the formula requiring the state to adjust spending annually. This will help us meet our constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public schools as the economy and other factors change.

Next, the Kansas Department of Education has requested that we hire 150 school counselors, social workers, or psychologists every year for five years. These positions are of the utmost importance to our students. I would recommend that these positions be hired by community mental health centers or other local behavioral health partners so that they would be available year-round, even when school is not in session. We would ask that the Court recognize this as a good faith effort to target the 25% of children at the highest risk.

Kansas must also make sure all schools – no matter their size or location – receive the support they need. We are currently conducting a survey to determine how individual schools would spend additional dollars. The results will help the Legislature tailor spending to our unique communities.

The Legislature already appropriated an additional $293 million for Fiscal Year 2018 and 2019. I supported that measure last session. With the changes to the formula above, this additional money will be more fairly distributed. I will also support a multi-year plan that increases funding significantly over the next three years.

With state revenue currently exceeding estimates, I’m confident we can add the additional funding through 2020. I would recommend using money from the ending balance in 2018 and 2019 and then establishing a “trust fund” for 2020.

Thanks to bi-partisan cooperation last year, the Legislature was able to reverse the Brownback tax plan. Kansas is now on a path to recovery. Before we alter the tax code further, we should let the dust settle on the 2017 changes, as well as changes made at the federal level.

Lastly, it is critical that the Court retain jurisdiction of this case to ensure that the Legislature follows through on these promises to our schools. During the past 8 years, Kansas children have been short-changed. As governor, I will make our schools my top priority. And I will use my budget expertise to ensure Kansas can continue to meet the needs of our students in the years to come.

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