Kansas is ranked No. 5 but not in a good way.
Kansas has the fifth largest percentage cut in public school funding in the nation based on a comparison of spending before the Great Recession and now, according to a report released Thursday by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.
The research organization’s findings echo concerns raised by the Kansas Association of School Boards and other school advocates on education funding in Kansas and will likely add fuel to the political debate over Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, which have significantly reduced the flow of revenue to the state budget — 50 percent of which funds public schools.
“If we are falling behind other states in school funding, we must be deeply concerned about falling behind in preparing students for success in postsecondary education and the workforce,” said KASB associate executive director for advocacy Mark Tallman.
Tallman also noted, “This week, KASB released a new report showing that states spending more on K-12 education have higher academic results.”
The CBPP’s national report said the lack of funding will hurt the economy and student achievement “at a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to the country’s prosperity.”
Budget experts say Brownback’s tax policies will lead to dramatic revenue shortfalls as early as next year. Brownback, a Republican, has said the tax changes would create jobs and stimulate the economy, but present economic indicators aren’t showing this has happened. Brownback’s Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, has said already-approved future tax cuts should be frozen and school funding restored to pre-recession levels.
According to the CBPP, adjusted for inflation, Kansas is spending 14.6 percent less per student now than before the recession. Kansas is tied with Wisconsin for the fifth deepest cut in the nation.
KASB has done an in-depth analysis of school funding. KASB research shows total school district funding per pupil declined 8.5 percent between 2009 and 2013, and current operating funds were reduced more than 11 percent per pupil over the same period.
“The report confirms regular school operating budgets are falling behind inflation,” said Tallman. “It is important to understand why the numbers in this report may differ from other state and national statistics on education funding. KPERS retirement contributions and state aid for bond and interest and capital outlay do not appear to be included in the CBPP definition of per pupil state funding. These programs have increased substantially in Kansas, while funding for general operating budgets has not.”
The national study done by the CBPP found that at least 30 states are providing less funding per student for the current school year than they did before the recession hit.
Oklahoma had the largest cut at 23.6 percent, followed by Alabama, 17.8 percent; Arizona, 17.5 percent; and Idaho, 16.2 percent.
In other words, 44 states have done more than Kansas to add funding to public schools since the recession.
Missouri registered a 3.6 percent increase in per pupil spending, while Nebraska had a 1 percent increase, and Colorado, a 0.2 percent decrease.
The largest increase was 31.6 percent in North Dakota, which avoided the recession because of an oil boom there.
The Washington, D.C.-based CBPP also criticized the Brownback tax changes in an earlier report. The center describes itself as a policy organization that works on federal and state fiscal policies and programs that affect low- and moderate-income families. It is sometimes described as left-leaning.