••• Education •••

State board chairman needs refresher course in education funding, board responsibilities

At the October state board of education meeting, the board invited six members of the Legislature – the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate education committees and the House K-12 budget committee – to discuss education issues in which both bodies have both concerns and responsibilities. The joint meeting was held on Wednesday, the second day of the monthly state board meeting. At the conclusion of the Tuesday meeting, board chairman Jim Porter laid out the ground rules for the following day. Included in those directives were his desire for maintaining a civil discourse, which, by the way was maintained throughout the meeting.

However, Mr. Porter made a curious statement prior to the legislators’ arrival. He stated: “There are things over which we (the state board and the Legislature) will never agree and I don’t want to waste our time trying to convince each other…tax credit scholarships and vouchers, we’re never gonna agree…we’re fully committed that public money goes to public schools. (emphasis added).

It seems Mr. Porter needs a refresher course in (a) what constitutes public money and, (b) where the law now stands regarding taxpayer dollars to private schools. First and foremost, the tax credit scholarship program does NOT use public dollars. But it’s no surprise that education establishment people like Porter believe differently. To review, individuals and businesses can contribute to the scholarship program – one that allows low-income families to choose a private alternative – and use that contribution as a credit against the Kansas income tax obligation. The dollars are never in the state coffers.

The retort of those who continually want to quash the fledgling tax credit scholarship program is that those dollars reduce the amount that would otherwise go to public schools. Really? I don’t hear them saying the same thing about the other 36 tax credits listed by the Kansas Department of Revenue – from abandoned well plugging credit to telecommunications and railroad credit. Does the education establishment call for the elimination of the adoption credit or disabled access credit? Wouldn’t those dollars also be used to fund public education since half of state general funding goes to K-12 education? Not to mention tax deductions like the home mortgage interest and charitable contributions. I’m sure Mr. Porter has enjoyed at least one of those deductions that reduces one’s income tax obligation. To think otherwise is to believe that ALL money earned by individuals inherently belongs to the government and the government decides how much the taxpayer gets to keep.

And why do educrats continue to pick on the tax credit scholarship program?

According to the latest KSDE annual report on the program, since its inception in 2015, a total of 1,053 students have been granted scholarships to private schools. In the 2020-21 school year 632 students were given scholarships that amount to just under $2 million in contributions. Contrast that to the nearly half million students enrolled in public schools at a cost to the Kansas taxpayers of approximately $6.5 billion. Compared to the price-tag of public-school education, the tax credit scholarship program barely amounts to loose change.

Could it be they fear the idea of educational choice when it comes to K-12 education?

Also, Mr. Porter seems unaware of the landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which the court held that a similar tax credit scholarship in Montana is not only constitutional, but the so-called “Blaine amendments” which appear in many state constitutions – Kansas included – that prohibit religious schools from receiving public money are themselves unconstitutional. The court found that, indeed, Blaine amendments are rooted in religious bigotry and have no place in American society. I’m sure Mr. Porter and the other members of the state board would agree that religious intolerance in the Kansas education system is not to be tolerated.

As I stated in this blog, the Legislature should be moving to strike Article 6, Section 6(c) of the Kansas constitution which states: No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds. The state board of education, led by Chairman Porter should at a minimum adopt a resolution giving full support to ending the practice of religious prejudice in Kansas.

Furthermore, Article 6, Section 2(a) of the Kansas constitution prescribes the state board of education to maintain responsibility for “all the educational interests of the state.” Certainly supporting and promoting choice in terms of private school funding or providing money directly to parents through an ESA would fall under that constitutional charge.

Giving parents more choice in their children’s education would go much farther to further the “educational interests of the state” than Kansans Can, the meaningless initiative that drives board policy and directives, which is nothing more than a diversion from the real issue of floundering student achievement.