Mast: School funding our No. 1 priority

State Rep. Peggy Mast, District 76
Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem

020914_rep_mast_peggy_11. Kansas is ranked fourth highest in the nation for the percentage of state general funds invested in K-12. (In FY 2013, we spent 49.9 percent of SGF on K-12, compared to the national average of 34.3 percent.)

2. In FY 2014, Kansas is investing $2.9 billion of the state general fund in our schools and $3.8 billion in total K-12 spending.

3. In 1997, Kansas spending per pupil was $6,828. By 2013, spending per pupil had risen to $12,738. This large increased investment in students was 33 percent greater than the inflation rate during the same period.

Gannon Decision

On March 7, the Kansas Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will bring about some very positive reforms in the education system. The court focused on issues concerning two components of Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, adequacy and equity.

As far as the adequacy requirement, the Court stated that it is met “when the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12 – through structure and implementation – is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed those standards set out in Rose.” The Rose decision provides seven goals for students in the education system including sufficient communication skills to keep up with an ever-changing society, a firm understanding of political systems and government processes in order to make informed decisions, and a sufficient level of academic and vocational skills in order to compete against students from other states in the academic field and job market. These standards are centered around important outcomes of education, rather than on the amount of money being spent on education.

The most important part of the adequacy requirement is the fact that the Court specifically said that funding will no longer be the test for adequacy in education. This part of the ruling acknowledges something that has always been a priority for legislators and the Republican leadership: education should be about outcomes, not total spending. The implementation of the Rose standards represents a dramatic shift in focus from spending to outcomes, something that is important. This new adequacy standard will be good news for citizens because it will ensure that funding will be put towards improving the outcomes of education in Kansas.

The second part of the court’s opinion concerned the topic of equity. The court handed down the following test of equity: “School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.” With this new test of equity, the legislature will have the opportunity to make new, positive changes in order to preserve the equity of Kansas schools.

The most important thing to remember is that Kansas has always had excellent schools. This court decision gives the legislature an opportunity to make even more lasting improvements. Combined with the positive economic news from recent weeks, this ruling signifies that our state will continue to make education the number one priority as it is already nearly 50 percent of the state budget.

The Impact of Gannon on Rural Schools

This is exciting news for rural school districts. Traditionally, the areas which have been able to raise local option budget and who are located in a more urban setting have been given an advantage for more funding opportunities than the rural schools. It is for this reason, I have been stating for many years our schools are unevenly funded. I look forward to working to find a solution and feel strongly that this will positively affect our rural schools.

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