Mullinville Schools (indirectly) attacks Kansas Policy Institute

While looking up something else, I noticed that the Mullinville Schools (USD 424) offer a swipe at people who have been pointing out certain inconvenient truths about taxpayer support for public schools. The commentary by Darrell Kohlman, district superintendent and principal of the middle school. Mr. Kohlman doesn’t name Kansas Policy Institute, but I have a feeling KPI is one group in his sites.

Here’s what he wrote in an article titled “School Spending,” with a published date of May 11, 2010. I have emphasized certain text in bold, and added my own comments in italics.

It is true that school spending at the state level has increased over the past five years; there is no denying that fact. But there is some misleading information being presented in ads in print media as well as commercials on television. These ads are sponsored by organizations that are financed by individuals as well as corporations that have an interest beyond saving the “regular tax payer” money. Since schools do not have the financial or the human resources that these groups have I would like to point out some facts about the increased spending that has occurred in the last five years in Kansas schools including USD #424.

One fact to remember is that through a court case that some school districts [including Mullinville] filed against the State of Kansas it was decided by the Kansas Supreme Court that there were areas that were significantly underfunded. The Kansas Supreme Court ordered that these areas of underfunding be corrected. So it should be no surprise that the legislatures had to add to the funding at a higher than inflation rate to make up the ground. The students in the areas of Special Education, At-Risk, and bi-lingual education have benefited from this increased funding and test scores for these areas have increased at a higher rate than the funding increased they received.

Another area that schools have shown an increase in spending was for KPERS contributions. KPERS is the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System and it has been determined by legislative studies that it was being underfunded, so the legislators decided to increase the funding by 58.9 percent. Local schools have no control over the benefits for KPERS and the funding is simply “passed through” local school budgets. Other than increasing the overall local district budget it has no impact on student learning. [Teacher compensation has no impact on student learning? Why then do I sometimes hear that teachers are underpaid?] This increasing trend will likely continue until the state gets the KPERS system more stable.

The Legislature has also recommended new action that pushes the decision to raise taxes to the local Board of Education. An example of this is when the Legislature voted to increase the maximum Local Option Budget from 25 percent to 31 percent; which is a 24 percent increase in spending authority. This is an example of the legislatures putting the tax burden on local patrons instead of spreading it out state wide. The House Education Budget Committee has recommended HB 2739 which would increase the local burden again with two new local funding options. [For the record, I think we need to fund schooling more through state dollars, on a follow-the-child basis, than through local taxes. In any case, how does the fact that districts have increased taxing authority make the presentation of spending trends misleading? As I recall, the purpose of pointing out this trend is to argue that schools have not been underfunded. In that context, where that funding comes from is not relevant.]

Another area of increased spending was the use of federal stimulus funding. These short term increases in funds were used to offset the short-fall in the Kansas State Budget. Again another area that federal government has used these funds were for students in special education and Title I programs to help increase test scores by the students served by these federally mandated programs. This is short term funding that will not last past 2010-2011 school year. When this funding ends it will need to be replaced at the state or local level. [This matters only if our only concern is state aid to schools. If, however, we look at the broader picture of public funding, then it’s reasonable to include federal funding.]

As you can see while it is true that funding as well as spending by K-12 education has increased over the past several years it is important to see where that funding is coming from, how it has helped to produce great results, and that cost continue to increase as well. School budgets are not as cut and dried as your own personal budgets.  Many areas of a school district’s budget are controlled by laws. If you have any questions regarding the local budget or how different scenarios that legislators are working on impact USD #424 or rural schools feel free to contact me at 548-2521.

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