Former legislator saddened by education funding vote

By Ann Mah

040714-annmahTonight I stood on the House floor and watched my state representative vote to trash public education along with 62 of his colleagues. It was a sad day for Kansas. Leaving the Capitol, I saw teachers in tears at what was done to them and their profession tonight (April 6, 2014) .

The Legislature sent a bill to the governor for signature to resolve the first part of the school funding lawsuit on equalization. Unfortunately, the Legislature took the opportunity to insert into the bill a number of policies that work against public education. Here is a summary of the key points in the bill:

  • Increases state aid per student by $14 for the next school year.
  • Adds $129 million to education funding to equalize the difference between low and high property value districts, as the court ordered. I don’t have a breakdown of where all that money comes from, but will provide it when I do. Less than half is “new” money. Most comes from reducing other budget items.
  • People who have degrees in science, technology, math, finance and accounting can now teach in your schools without a teaching license.
  • Corporations can now get a tax credit for donating to private school scholarship funds to be ear-marked for low-income students, up to $10 million a year.
  • The lid on the local option budget is lifted from 31 percent to 33 percent.
  • Eliminates due process for teachers. Currently, teachers who have more than three years’ teaching experience can get a hearing if their contracts are not renewed or they are fired. Now they can be fired for no reason and their only recourse is to take the school district to court.

Rather than just pass a bill to resolve the funding issue, the Legislature inserted policies that will hurt Kansas public education. Kansas teachers do not have tenure. There is no guarantee of employment. What they did have was a right to a hearing. Now that is gone.

Going forward, almost anyone can be hired to teach your children. No license or knowledge of how to teach is required if potential teachers have degrees in the areas of science, math, finance, and accounting. The number one factor in student success is teacher preparation. But tonight the Legislature said that did not matter. Believe me, just knowing a subject does not make you a good teacher. I’m scared for the future of our schools.

I do not know why anyone would come to teach in Kansas. Our salaries are near the bottom of all states. And now the legislature says even with decades of experience you can be fired at will for no reason without a hearing.

On the financial side, there is a mix of news on property taxes. Much of the $129 million will go toward property tax relief, and that is good. But we need more money in the classroom. So the Legislature’s best idea on that was to raise your property taxes back up! They raised the lid on the Local Option Budget and raised the base amount on which your LOB is calculated. So more of the cost of education is shifted to property taxes and away from income and sales tax.

Corporations came out winners with another $10 million in tax credits that are claimed to help low-income kids but will never get there because private schools don’t bus urban kids to their schools.

It was a sad day for public education. I hope the public wakes up to what’s going on at the Capitol. If you have questions, write back.


Ann Mah is a former state representative who represented the area that is now Kansas legislative district 54. She can be reached through her website www.annmah.org or email [email protected].

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