Possible higher-ed cuts
| Marcus Clem editor in chief |
Kansas educators are nervously waiting as the state’s highest court of appeal decides how much money to provide to public schools. If more money is mandated, Pittsburg State’s funding could be in the lurch.
The Kansas Supreme Court will nominally have the final say on the level of money that K-12 school districts should be allocated. What has so many on edge is the possibility that the court will rule for up to $500 million more in funding for K-12 education.
The case, Gannon v. Kansas, is the third court battle between public school interests and the state government of the last 20 years.
A district court last year held that about $445 million in funding meets the state constitution’s mandate to provide a “suitable” provision. The Supreme Court’s ruling could come any week in the near future.
While there’s plenty of debate about the reason, all parties involved agree that Kansas cannot afford a nine-figure funding boost under its current fiscal plan.
“The state doesn’t have the money,” said Chris Christman, associate professor of teaching and leadership and former superintendent of Galena Unified School District 499. “The only way to fund that increase would be to raise taxes or cut funding elsewhere.”
It’s unclear what happens if K-12 increases are mandated. The Kansas State Assembly may try to ignore the ruling.
Rep. Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, said in an interview with The Kansas City Star that he did not see the legislature “going along with what the courts say.”
Their options include simply doing nothing in the face of a ruling, or trying to make it official with a constitutional amendment that would set their position in stone.
Steve Scott, university president, is skeptical of that idea.
“We want to have time to respond to the ruling if it is negative,” he said. “Some legislators will be willing to ignore the courts. That would set up a very interesting and probably not very healthy situation with the state.”
If a ruling for higher funding is enforced, then higher ed could be one of several public services in danger of cuts.
Any other action would require increased revenues for the state, probably in the form of tax increases, to which the governor and the state legislature’s leaders are opposed.
Howard Smith, dean of education, says the situation for his education trainers is something of a catch-22.
On one hand, the College of Education supports increased K-12 funding to help students and create jobs for its graduates.
On the other, if the Supreme Court mandates more K-12 funding, Pitt State’s education students will most likely have to pay more tuition for a university with tighter resources.
“I’m anxious to see what the court is going to do,” Smith said. “It’s an interesting dynamic.”
Christman says the situation is the result of the state government’s lack of regard for education at all levels.
“I would generally say that education in general does not hold a priority position as evidenced by the actions of the legislature,” he said. “It’s just not a priority for them.
“Someone before us voted to raise their taxes so that I could attend a decent school. The current generation owes that to younger generations … The thing is, it’s all about preparing kids and giving them opportunities. That should be what we base our decisions on, and we don’t.”
Scott, will be the one to decide how to respond if higher education suffers cuts. It’s a familiar environment for him, as state support for higher ed since the financial crisis of 2007 has steadily decreased.
However, Scott says, the current situation is different, or at least it should be. Brownback’s plan of tax cuts that’s been implemented in recent years has emphasized a need for money across the state’s entire public sector.
“The tax cuts that have been implemented come pretty close to half a billion dollars,” Scott said. “This is a financial crisis for a variety of reasons, and part of it is because the state just decided to have less revenue.
“The good thing about the legislative process is, in the end, things get to a more reasonable, practicable position