State funding for education short hundreds of millions

USD 259 votes to build new facility.
USD 259 votes to build new facility.

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WICHITA, Kansas (KSN) – A new report from the state Department of Education shows lawmakers have short-changed student funding by more than $650 million over the next two years.

According to Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis, the report was prepared for the State Board of Education as board members consider if they’ll lobby the governor and legislature for more funding.

The report comes as the state Supreme Court considers a lawsuit backed by school districts seeking to return spending levels to those mandated by a 2005 court decision.

“Education is mandated in our constitution and many things are not,” said Lynn Rogers, president of USD 259’s school board.

Conservatives in charge in Topeka point out school spending has gone up over the last two years since the Great Recession but question if it’s necessary to fund schools at mandated levels.

“I think what the legislature is finally doing this year is saying “Wait.  Where is all this money going?” said Rep. Steve Brunk, R – Wichita.

Brunk points out school spending has gone up dramatically in the last two decades.  In 1993-94, the state spent nearly $1.5 billion on schools.

In 2011-12, that number climbed to nearly $3.2 billion.  Adding in local and federal contributions takes the figure to $5.7 billion.

“It’s almost been like a rocket ship going off,” said Brunk.

Brunk questions if the court has the right to mandate spending levels claiming the state constitution leaves education spending up to the legislature.

Rogers says the lawsuit is about enforcing a 2005 law passed by the state that requires minimum spending levels.

“If you pass a law saying you’re going to put a stop sign at Kellogg and Main and that’s the law, that’s the law,” said Rogers.  “You may take the stop sign away but it’s still the law.”

A decision from the Supreme Court on school spending could come this summer.

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