Shawnee Mission legislators react to K-12 study suggesting $2 billion investment could be needed

Taylor’s report suggests hundreds of millions will be required to improve graduation rates and standardized test scores in Kansas.

The release of the long-awaited report on how much of an investment may be needed to achieve improved outcomes for Kansas’s K-12 system Friday left many lawmakers in shock as the deadline for responding to the Supreme Court’s latest ruling nears.

With just weeks to go before the legislature must pass a new K-12 funding approach to address the court’s finding that Kansas schools have been insufficiently funded, the report by Texas A&M professor Lori Taylor suggests the state needs to inject between $1.7 and $2 billion in new funding into state schools by 2022. Taylor was commissioned by Republican legislative leaders to assess how much money might be required to address the court’s ruling.

You can see the full report here. We’ve also got it embedded at the bottom of this post.

We asked members of the Shawnee Mission area delegation to the legislature for their reaction to the report:

Rep. Cindy Holscher

Our schools are underfunded. The Supreme Court, educators, parents, education advocates, and pro-public school legislators (like myself) have been saying this for years. Now, even the firm that was hand picked by far right legislators (who have for years shirked their responsibility to our kids) has indicated our schools need more funding.

My hope is my colleagues on the far right will finally come to the table ready to address the issue. No more dodging the main responsibility of our state government. Our kids and teachers have had to wait far too long.

Rep. Nancy Lusk

Now is a moment of truth. After the confirmation from this study and the two previous school finance studies, there should no longer be any denial that the amount of money invested in the education of our kids directly affects the quality of their academic achievement outcomes.

Rather than dragging our feet and whining about the Kansas Supreme Court’s directive – like a deadbeat parent who has been ordered by the court to pay up past-due child support – we in the legislature should rise to the challenge of this opportunity to do the right thing, and fund K-12 public education for excellence.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley

It is tempting to find it amusing that an expert hired explicitly by conservative leadership with the hopes of finding no additional funds were necessary, then found that roughly three times what was previously estimated is needed, and then also provided that there is a direct correlation between money invested in public education and the resulting education received by students, something consistently denied by those who supported Brownback’s tax experiment. Unfortunately, nothing about this funny. We have a generation of children who have received educations in underfunded Kansas schools for roughly eight years. It’s time to get to work fixing this, with a constitutional formula. There is no reason to cannibalize other departments, or other vital state services. Had the Brownback experiment never been implemented, budget estimates last year indicated we would have had the $2 billion necessary to fix this. It’s time to eliminate the remainders of the Brownback experiment, and return to responsible governance.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook

Any study done on spending for education would have a different result, which is why I opposed the study from the beginning. There are numerous subjective variables that would have to be taken into consideration, and each one would vary depending on the subjective opinion of the individual doing the study. The Legislature already has a study and it is called the Kansas citizens. They alone know how much of their hard-earned money should be spent for education. Not the courts and not another study.

Rep. Melissa Rooker

On Friday, the state received the long-anticipated cost study commissioned by the Legislative Coordinating Council, at the request of Senate leadership in December. Today, Dr. Lori Taylor will spend several hours briefing the House K-12 and Senate Education committees in a joint session.

For people thinking they were shopping for an expert to tell them they were already spending enough money on K-12 education, this report was a major shock. For some of us, it was simply a reality check.

There is no doubt the funding targets set forth in this report are sobering, but its time we all take a collective breath and get to work. Even in its draft version, the report contains a wealth of incredibly important and useful data. The analysis is thorough and based on the performance measures and goals set by our Kansas Department of Education – and the many stakeholders who helped shape the Kansans Can Vision. The work done by the department received high marks, our schools were deemed to operate with a high level of efficiency and the student performance benchmarks are both achievable and measurable. The report recommends a five-year timeline for investing in our schools to foster long-term strategic planning and quality decision-making.

The new cost study shifts the debate by focusing on student outcomes and educational goals. Rather than working backwards from an arbitrary dollar amount, the study evaluates the cost of achievement. In which outcomes do we need to invest? How much of an increase in student educational performance do we want? Do we value these outcomes enough to provide the necessary resources?

The deadline looms large, so from here our job is to set aside our ideological differences and focus on the task at hand. While the initial reaction from some of my colleagues was to dismiss this document outright because it did not deliver the desired results, or they did not believe we should commission it in the first place, that’s simply the politics of this project. The policy work lies ahead and will require intense collaboration to deliver an appropriate remedy to the court by the April 30 deadline. Our kids are depending on us.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill

The two billion dollar figure proposed in the school finance report was a shock to everyone in attendance at the meeting on Friday in the Capitol It certainly points out, in facts and figures, the total mismanagement, educational neglect and fiscal irresponsibility inflicted on the people of Kansas by the Brownback / Colyer / Kobach administration in Topeka and their ultra-conservative loyalists in the legislature. Their disdain for our public schools and their unwillingness to properly fund public education, support our teachers and value our children has led to this financial mess.

Our public schools and institutions of higher education have always been a major attraction for bringing families and businesses to Kansas. Quality public schools are not only about educating our children they are the main incentive for economic development in Kansas. As this report points out, fixing our public school system, which has been under attack and underfunded for the past seven years, is not going to be fast or cheap, but, we have to do it for the future of our children and the economic future of the state.

I have been working with a group of legislators in Topeka to come up with a plan to fully fund our schools in a responsible manner that spreads the financial burden across every sector of the Kansas economy. The Brownback / Colyer / Kobach administration has put way too much emphasis on property taxes and sales taxes in order to give big income tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. We need to get Kansas back to a place where property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes are more evenly balanced. If we do that we will have the ability to properly fund our schools, build our economy and make Kansas a great place to live and do business.

We will certainly have a group of distractors in the Executive Branch and the ultra-conservatives in the Legislature who will want no part of fully funding our schools, balancing our tax structure and supporting economic development. They will simply want more of the Brownback years. I will certainly fight to make sure that does not happen.

If you think going back to the Brownback years is a bad idea you can do three things. The first is to contact the ultra-conservative leadership in the House and Senate and demand that they fix our public schools. Two, you can get informed, get involved and make sure you are prepared to vote for candidates this fall that support our schools, support a fair and balanced tax structure and support returning Kansas to its place of national prominence pre-Brownback. Finally, be prepared to support the people in Topeka who are working hard every day to fix our political system, to fix our schools and to fix our economy. This is not going to be fast and there are going to be some painful moments, but, with all of us working together we can make this happen. As always, thanks for your support, your questions and your suggestions.

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