Beyond the spin

? It?s time we hear the truth about public school funding in the State of Kansas.

Steve P. Noble, USD 410 superintendent
Steve P. Noble, USD 410 superintendent

Recently, Rep. John Barker and Sen. Richard Wilborn voted ?Yes? on H Sub for SB 7, known as the ?School Block Grant Bill.? Both legislators represent at least portions of Marion County and USD 410 with Sen. Wilborn representing all of Marion County.

Concerning the bill, Rep. Barker said, ?There has been much speculation and misinformation circulated, regarding education. Our schools are receiving more funding this year than last, and the credible proposals currently on the table have schools receiving even more funding for the near future. Nobody is proposing ?gutting? education, ?cutting? teachers, or ?closing? schools. Those are terms tossed around by those who, for whatever their motivation, refuse to engage in meaningful discussion about the challenges put before us by the courts, and concerns raised by our school administrators.?

I agree on one point with Rep. Barker that ?nobody,? including our legislators and the governor, would ever publicly propose ?gutting education, cutting teachers, or closing schools.? Doing so would be political suicide.

Still, recent votes by Rep. Barker to attempt to dismantle the Professional Negoti?ations Act, change the school finance formula, move local elections to the fall and support changes to appellate court judicial selection cause me great concern as it appears each of these votes are an attack on public schools hidden behind public words of consolation.

My viewpoint on school funding differs from Rep. Barker. His statement that ?schools are receiving more money this year than last? is true when you set the starting point for comparison as July 1, 2013, but that is an historically low starting point.

Many school leaders, myself included, look at the ?starting point? for comparison to be July 1, 2008, when base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) was $4,400. Because of the great recession and massive income tax cuts were implemented near the end of that difficult time, state revenues continue to lag and BSAPP is still only $3,852, which is the same amount used for base funding of the School Block Grant Bill.

Using July 1, 2008, as the starting point, many schools continue to experience significant budget cuts. Last spring, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the state to begin to address this deficiency.

As a result of a court-ordered increase in state equalization funding, the USD 410 Board of Education approved a 2014-15 budget using 33 percent local option budget authority approved by voters and an eight-mill capital outlay levy.

USD 410 patrons are enjoying a 2.4 mill decrease in property taxes because of the additional state aid promise (2014 Tax Levy Sheet); however, with the recent signing of the School Block Grant Bill, the promise was broken… again.

USD 410 will not receive the full amount of state aid promised. Instead, our budget has been immediately reduced $101,000 and will remain that way through the 2015-16 school year. In the 2016-17 school year, the budget will still be at least $71,000 less than the amount budgeted for the 2014-15 school year.

The decrease in state aid resulting from the School Block Grant Bill will likely lead to an increase in local property taxes to recoup the lost revenue to avoid even further school cuts. Rep. Barker, Sen. Wilborn and the Governor have ignored the court order for equalization funding and placed the burden to suitably fund schools back on local property taxpayers.

Many legislators, the governor, and powerful lobbying groups spend a lot of time and millions of dollars trying to convince voters that Kansas? schools and Kansas? courts are the sources of the problem regarding unsustainable school funding. They say schools are inefficient and failing and the courts are intrusive and contain activist judges who mandate funding.

Schools are not the problem (Kansas Educational Achievement Report Card). Our courts are not the problem. Our problem lies with ?education unfriendly? legislators, well-funded lobbyists, and a governor who pushed through massive income tax cuts creating a self-imposed budgetary crisis for Kansas.

Spinning it any other way is disingenuous at best and at worst, deceiving and hurtful to Kansas kids and communities.

-Steve P. Noble, USD 410 superintendent