OPINION: Kansas Schools Are a Success Story

Some of our state legislators have been claiming that Kansas schools are failing our students. That is just not true.

In 2022, a Kansas Association of School Boards study found Kansas ranked 10th in the nation on a weighted average of 16 educational outcomes. The report examined performance in areas of preschool enrollment, math and reading scores, college readiness, graduation rates, tuition and fees, and debt at graduation. Using slightly different criteria, the Forbes ranking of states with the best public schools put Kansas at 15. It certainly doesn’t look like Kansas schools are failing students.

In 2022, the Network for Public Education ranked Kansas 10th among all U.S. schools. The criteria were the “state’s willingness to commit to democratically governed public schools open to all, and their willingness to put sufficient guardrails and limits on publicly funded alternatives to ensure that taxpayers, students, and families are protected from discrimination, corruption and fraud in the programs they offer.”

Much of the criticism of Kansas schools has come from legislators who wish to remove the guardrails and then allow funding for private education at taxpayers’ expense. They are trying to do this by using tax-free education savings accounts and tuition tax credit scholarship programs. The savings accounts provide students with a voucher they can take to any school or use for homeschooling. This is an indirect way of transferring public tax money to private schools, and it undermines the public school system.

According to the Network for Public Education: “These are perhaps the most damaging and irresponsible of all voucher programs.”

This year, the Kansas Legislature has put in the education budget a tuition tax-credit scholarship program that grants businesses and taxpayers credits against their state income taxes for contributions to school tuition organizations. Those organizations then award tuition grants to families to be used for private education.

The size of the tax credit in Kansas is now 70%, but the Legislature wishes to change it to 100% with a $50,000 cap on individual donations. This is not like a charitable contribution, which is subtracted from a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, but a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. It is not clear whether the Constitution allows the Legislature to enact such policies by putting them in the budget.

However, it will create a problem as Gov. Laura Kelly may not be able to veto this transfer of taxpayer funds to private education without vetoing the entire education budget.

It appears that the Kansas Legislature is the one that is failing our students. Members are trying to transfer public money to unregulated private education institutions. This will reduce the quality of education in Kansas and transfer money out of the public school budget. In the Gannon lawsuit in 2019, the court ordered the Legislature to fund Kansas schools at an adequate level and provide increases for inflation.

However, Kansas school funding has not been adequate as it has not kept up with inflation. Also, the Legislature is underfunding special education by $155 million, requiring schools to make up the difference by taking funds from other programs.

If lawmakers want to improve Kansas schools, they could fund it at a level that is deemed excellent, rather than just adequate.

Also, they could increase funding for early childhood education. Early childhood education programs, especially those which involve parents, have been shown to greatly increase children’s’ performance in school. It also a good investment, as a national study has found that every dollar invested in early childhood education returns a minimum of four dollars on the investment. The benefits are seen in better classroom performance, less remedial costs, lower incarceration rates, better job performance, higher pay, and an increase in taxes paid.

The high national rankings for Kansas, in spite of years of underfunding, is because of the hard work and dedication of our teachers and educators.

Kansas now has a budget surplus, and the legislature is looking for places to spend the money. What better place could there be than investing it in our children’s education?

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Opinion by J.C. Moore / Kansas Reflector

J.C. Moore served two years as the Republican representative for District 93 and has written more than 300 articles for local newspapers and his website, “Current Events from a Science Perspective.” Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.