Report gives law makers marching orders
The Kansas Legislature opened its 2006 session with yet another report stating it isn't spending enough on education.
There isn't anything shocking in the new report from the Legislature's own post-audit division except a finding that even by the standards advocated by conservative lawmakers K-though-12 education is shortchanged by at least $316 million in direct state support to school districts. That is $26 million more than the $290 million in increases the Legislature approved last year under pressure of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling.
The $316 million shortfall represented what the post-audit division found would be necessary to provide "basic" education in reading, math and science. The report found $399 million was needed to get students to a "proficient" level required by federal No Child Left Behind legislation. Both figures grew substantially when pension and local tax increases were included.
Both figures are less than the more than $500 million a previous legislative study said education was underfunded -- a figure the court said was needed unless a lesser number could be justified through a post-audit study.
It might be assumed the two studies by the Legislature's own auditors would serve as the basis for the coming debate on education. And they might. It was said lawmakers were in agreement more spending was needed. But other issues that arose from last year's fight have to play themselves out first.
As the session started, it was assumed some of those offended by last year's court ruling would introduce a constitutional amendment making it more difficult for the court to order spending decrees. During a special session last summer to address the Supreme Court ruling, conservatives tried -- and failed -- to make that amendment part of any spending package and promised to try again this session.
Even if the amendment is successful this time around, the latest report puts the ball squarely in the Legislature's court. Once again, a report from the Legislature's own department using ground rules conservatives established found education to be under funded by a minimum $319 million. That same report found that to meet the unfunded mandates of legislation ushered through Congress by a conservative president requires nearly $400 million more in state education funding.
The last points suggest No Child Left Behind is forcing the state to cut its losses as far as federal education dollars are concerned. To do otherwise would have the state spending an additional $81 million in direct funds to school districts more than needed to provide a basic education so districts can meet the standards required by the No Child Left Behind act so Kansas remains eligible for $175 million in federal funding. Moreover, the state spending will need to go up and the standards become stricter in coming years. At some point this makes no sense, especially when educators insist all public schools will eventually fail because of the impossibility of all students testing at proficient levels no matter their limitations.
Clearly, Congress needs to fund No Child Left Behind as promised, and their position should be a question asked of all congressional candidates this year.