Proposed $900 million K-12 funding increase displays State Board’s disconnection and dysfunction

Proposed $900 million K-12 funding increase displays State Board’s disconnection and dysfunction

At the July State Board of Education meeting the Board voted to recommend a whopping $900 million funding increase to the governor by the 2018-19 fiscal year. The recommendation would add over $550 million in 2017-18 and an additional increase of nearly $350 million for the 2018-19 school year. Putting that amount in context it would mean

  • raising current state aid by more than 22% to nearly $5 billion annually
  • bringing total taxpayer support to more than $7 billion per year
  • per-pupil spending would exceed $15,000
  • if taxes were increased by $900 million to fund the recommendation, 57 percent of the state general fund would be spent on K-12 education, and that doesn’t count $910 million in K-12 state funding not recorded as General Fund spending. Reallocating other spending to accommodate their wishes would push the K-12 share to 65%.

The stratospheric increase notwithstanding, the way in which the board came to this decision bordered on the surreal. Each year the Board is required by law to make budget recommendations to the governor for the upcoming fiscal years At the July meeting, Deputy KSDE Commissioner Dale Dennis led the Board through the process by providing budget recommendations in 17 different categories. (The entire board meeting can be viewed here – the budget presentation begins at the 1:12 mark.)

It is quite apparent from watching the proceedings that the Board made this decision hastily with little or no thought to the consequences of their actions. KPI also learned pursuant to a KORA request that no communication between KSDE staff and the State Board was made prior to the meeting. According to Scott Gordon, General Counsel for KSDE, he was told by agency staff that “there was no email or communication between KSDE and Board members other than the Board packet that’s available on the KSDE website” with reference to the budget recommendations.

The $900 million increase was approved on a 7-3 vote, opposed by Ken Willard, Steve Roberts and John Bacon. The increase is based on raising base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) to $4,650 for 2017-18 and bumping it up to $5,150 in 2018-19. Those options were chosen from a list of seven choices for 2017-18 and eight for 2018-19 that were presented to the Board by Mr. Dennis. The Board held discussion for less than 20 minutes before approving it, with hardly a word about where the money would come from to pay for it.  More importantly, there was no discussion of how (or whether) another $900 million would close achievement gaps or improve overall outcomes.

16729653 - a gold dollar sign climbing steps forming the word, "taxes". on white with drop shadow.

This comment from Board Member Janet Waugh pretty much sums up the Board’s disconnection with reality. Regarding finding the money to pay for such an increase, Waugh stated: “this can be done if they reinstate that one tax that they cut.” I believe she was talking about restoring the LLC tax cuts, and if that’s the case, only about $200 million would be generated.  Funding $900 million more in spending would require taxing pass through income AND raising individual income taxes by about 30%. Also absent from the discussion was any justification for that amount other than Board President Jim McNiece describing it as the Board showing a “leadership role.” There was no discussion about how the money could be used to improve achievement, nor was there mention of how this would mesh with the Rose standards. It was just money for money’s sake.

But wait, there’s more!  Base state aid per pupil no longer even exists as a funding category! Despite the fact that Mr. Dennis acknowledged this pesky detail, he still presented it as an option, projecting his prediction that BSAPP will be included in some form in the new finance law.

What transpired underscores the systemic dysfunction that exists in the Kansas education structure. The State Board of Education is an independently elected body, both constitutionally and statutorily charged with the general supervision of public K-12 education, a function that consumes half the entire General Fund budget. However, they essentially have no monetary authority. The legislature appropriates the tax dollars which flows through the Department of Education. Yet they are required to make annual budget recommendations which they do without a whit of consideration of the potential impact on student achievement or the impact their wishes have not only on the state budget but potentially on the entire state economy.

The fiasco surrounding the Board’s budget recommendations is an indicator that it is time for systemic changes.