K-12 Education in Kansas will always be a priority. In 1992, state government took over the responsibility to support K-12 education. The state government's interest in controlling schools also increased. The result has been a cookie cutter approach to education. This method has taken away the local schools' ability to not only address a district's unique needs, but their ability to exceed state standards. Consequently, the current formula is a formula for mediocrity.
There are some that say there is a lack of concern in the state legislature to fund education. That opinion fails to understand the challenge of efficiently funding the individual and unique needs of 300 school districts with the current formula.
The only redeeming factor of the 1992 school formula was the reduced reliance on property tax. Unfortunately, in many school districts, the mill levies have crept back up due to the inadequacies of the current formula. For years, Kansas recognized the need to seek a level of equity in funding schools, by providing state funding to less wealthy school districts. This system served the state well for many years. The local effort and the wealth of a school district was predominantly a function of property tax. When the property tax burden got excessive, it was universally recognized that property tax was not the appropriate tax to fund schools. Rather than give local schools the flexibility to use the income and/or sales tax to fund local efforts, the state changed the formula to a state funded formula and used state sales and income tax to buy down the property tax. That was a dramatic change in philosophy for funding our local schools, and many did not anticipate the control the state would assume.
The funding challenges of the 1992 formula came to a head during the 2005 legislative session. The fight that ensued resulted in the Kansas Supreme Court overstepping their authority and dictating to the legislature how much to spend. In only 12 years, Kansas had gone from locally controlled schools to state controlled schools to court controlled schools. That should be of great concern to the people of Kansas.
The Kansas Constitution charges the legislature with making suitable provisions for the finance of the education interests of the state.
Has the legislature made suitable provisions for the financing of our local public schools? The school finance formula is clearly not good public policy. However, it is not unconstitutional, and the courts should not have gotten involved.
School finance debates are not easy. There are philosophical differences, geographical differences, and rural/urban differences. There are several alternatives that would be acceptable, but for the good of Kansas children, there are several provisions on which we must stand firm.
First: An equalization of funding for the level of excellence the state determines is appropriate for our Kansas schools
Second: No limits on what a local board can do to meet what they and their constituents believe are the needs of their respective school.
Third: Usage of property taxes to fund education must be reduced.