An education advocacy group told area superintendents they will have to clearly show Kansas voters they are getting value from their tax increase, even though the additional school funding is merely filling in gaps created during the last decade.
A handful of area school district superintendents met early Tuesday morning with Mark Tallman, Kansas Association of School Boards executive director of advocacy, at the Rose Garden Banquet Hal in Haysl. KASB also conducted leadership training for school superintendents and school board members Tuesday morning.
Next year, as voters go to the polls, a big issue will be who voted for the state’s tax increase, Tallman said.
Kansas lawmakers voted at the beginning of June to roll back Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts, overriding a veto by the governor to make it law. The increases are expected to generate more than $1.2 billion in the next two years.
“I think it’s critical that voters next year at this time feel they got something for that money,” Tallman said. “People have to understand what that tax increase was used for.”
He encouraged the school administrators to share with the public what plans they have for the new funds and what results they expect as soon as they can.
“I would say to all of you as school leaders, it is important for you to be thinking what can you do to show positive things as soon as possible,” he said.
Legislators will want the same thing, Tallman said, especially since the Kansas Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on the new school finance formula the Legislature also passed earlier this year. The court heard arguments two weeks ago on the new funding formula, which phases in a $293 million increase in two years.
It’s not yet known when the court will issue its ruling.
“One sense from the Legislature is we’re going to have to show the court what’s happening. If we don’t see improvement, then it becomes harder to argue the problems with lack of improvement is not enough money,” Tallman said.
Hays USD 489 Superintendent John Thissen said schools will be able to show results, but those changes won’t be new for the districts. For example, he said one of the things the Hays district will be able to do is hire one or two new school counselors.
“Some are going to view that as hiring new counselors. It’s not. It’s getting them back to where we were five years ago,” he said.
Kansas school districts have eliminated approximately 2,000 positions since 2009, according to the KASB. About two-thirds of those are direct educators such as teachers, paraprofessionals, principals and counselors.
The lack of educators contributes to a lack of growth in the state’s economy, according to a report the KASB issued this month.
That report measured a state’s economic success by examining earnings and unemployment rates by education attainment, college attainment by per-pupil spending, and college attainment compared to state poverty and personal income rates.
“If you measure a state’s success by how well its people are doing, education is absolutely the key,” Tallman said.
The most successful states have more direct educators than the national average, he said.
“When you look at the states that do the most in preparing kids to be successful, they are the states that have more people working to help kids, and that takes more money,” Tallman said.
“At the same time, those are the most prosperous states.”
Kansas’ problem arose from trying to promote economic growth by cutting taxes, he said.
“The problem is, even though everyone likes lower taxes, when you cut your ability to support services like education, it starts to have an effect on the quality of education you can provide,” he said.
Economic growth will be key to making sure the state adequately can fund education, he said.
“The money isn’t going to be there if the economy isn’t growing. That’s just critical. As we’ve learned, there’s a lot that happens in our state that is really beyond state policies’ control,” he said.