Money won’t fix Kansas’ real school problem

Last fall, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the Gannon v. Kansas school finance case that more money needs to be spent on public schools to satisfy the state constitution. They did not outline a specific dollar amount, but with a wink and a nod bracketed their analysis of how much new money would be needed as between the $600 million per year requested by the Kansas Board of Education and up to $1.4 billion, requested by the trial attorneys suing the state on behalf of Kansas public schools.

In light of that ruling, $600 million is widely recognized as the floor for new money to be spent. Kansas politicians from every ideological perspective use this number as a given. They may personally think it is too much or too little, but they understand it that if it walks likes a mandate and quacks like a mandate it is, in effect, a judicial mandate. In fact, The Star reported in October that one of the schools’ attorneys said, “It’s exactly $600 million short.”

What we know is that simply throwing more money at the problem will not change the outcomes for Kansas students either stuck in mediocrity or near-failure. Taxpayers spent $111 billion on public education over the last 25 years in Kansas, yet only 29 percent of those taking the ACT are considered college-ready in English, reading, math and science. Less than 30 percent of 10th graders are on track for college and career, according to the state assessment.

An even more sobering reality: Low-income children are typically behind their peers in learning by two to three years. Simply spending more money has not resulted in increased achievement in the past, and continuing down that primrose path will not help kids learn in the future.

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