Student voices must be heard regarding education funding

Meredith Comas, Online Editor-in-Chief

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As students, parents and teachers of the Kansas public education system, we all — through observation and government-confirmed fact — are aware of the disastrous state of education funding in the sunflower state.

This isn’t a new topic, not for The Mentor, not for our readers. However, due to the ongoing case that has reached the Kansas Supreme Court, and the wild gubernatorial, political discussions and debates on the matter, we find it is time again to remind the community and our respected lawmakers that we, the students, have a voice in the matter too. Warning: it’s not small, nor is it insignificant.

It is the agreement of The Mentor editorial board that’s it’s time we — the students — spoke up for our education. It’s time to be heard.

The dismality surrounding education has lingered in Kansas since the catastrophic tax-cuts of 2013 — an economic experiment lead by then-governor Sam Brownback — that left an extensive gap in Kansas’ finances, resulting in the pulling of $45 million in the state’s public education funding. This forced schools of all sizes and academic excellence throughout all of Kansas to drastically change their academic standards, to change and cut teachers’ wages, etc., effectively leaving the schools and those within them in a dire state of disarray.  

In weak counterargument is the 2015 block grants for school funding. According to an education budget analysis from the Kansas Legislative Research Department, these grants repealed what was then the current school finance formula — the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act — replacing it with the Classroom Learning Ensuring Student Success Act, or CLASS Act. The CLASS Act, containing the block grants, allowed school districts more versatility on how to spend state funds.

At first glance, the freedom to decide what to do with funds may sound like a dream. However, because CLASS set the funds at those of the the 2014-2015 school year, CLASS also reduced funding for later school years. Later, in 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court found these block funds to be unconstitutional under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.

In an ongoing case since June of 2018, the court still finds school funding and the plans since proposed to the court to be inadequate under Article 6.

However, the fact that funding is unconstitutional is not even the result truly felt by those within the educational system of Kansas. Rather, it’s the effect on the inner workings of individual schools themselves. Many schools throughout Kansas have been forced to cut advanced level classes, offering only college-level, Advanced Placement or regular-level classes. There is no longer a middle ground for students who may find themselves in the middle of academic ability.

Not to mention, the state of teachers’ salaries. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers in Kansas earn an average salary of $44,620 — below the national average.

These points all get major attention when the argument comes to its height, but rarely do those actually suffering the effects of this funding get the chance to have a say.

It’s high time that we — students, parents of students, teachers, administrators, etc. — make our voices regarding our education heard. It’s high time the lawmakers and members of our community listen to them.

On Sept. 24, Manhattan High had the honor of hosting a Kansas Supreme Court special session, and while the judges could not speak on the education case as it is ongoing, they could speak to those wishing to be heard.

“You can’t be a friend of the court, it won’t get you anywhere,” Justice Dan Biles said. “Students have been very influential in making law, take Tinker v. Des Moines for example… you have to be active and voice your opinions and get in the faces a little bit of our lawmakers, of those who introduce controversy into the courts.”

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