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Francis discusses challenges for upcoming legislative session PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 11 December 2017 08:18

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



The state’s education funding problem has continued for many years now, with some arguing Kansas school systems are still not adequately funded despite hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into the budget each year.

Kansas 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis spent the bulk of his time at Friday’s legislative forum in Liberal talking about the problems the education situation in the state and the headaches it is creating for the rest of the state’s budget.

The Kansas Legislature is expected to start its 2018 session Jan. 9, and Francis said school finance will be what affects the session the most.

“Last year, before we went to Topeka, we were staring at a $350 million deficit for the third or fourth year,” he said of the overall budget. “We took the action last year to address that. We had to have 84 votes in the House to address it, 27 votes in the Senate to address it. We had to do a veto override.”

Francis said last year’s deficit is just the latest of annual deficits in Topeka.

“We were running in the hole every year,” he said. “We were robbing Peter to pay Paul. We had to make a change so we could focus on the things that long term make Kansas healthier.”

As far as the school funding issue goes, Francis said an extra $185 million has been put into education for the current fiscal year, and another $100 million has been put in for the next fiscal year. Added to the $285 million put in for last year, that makes $470 million additional money put into education for a three-year period.

One thing Francis said the additional money is being used for is to fund statewide all-day kindergarten.

“Our school system was one of the few that didn’t have all-day kindergarten,” he said. “We put additional funding in there for early preschool.”

One issue Francis said the Kansas Supreme Court has with the way lawmakers fund education in the state is equity.

“Equity is trying to make sure the taxpayer in Seward County pays the same for education as the taxpayer in Johnson County,” he said. “You’d be surprised how often that comes up, and I do believe it’s very important.”

Francis further explained that he believes the Legislature is not doing its job to tax everyone fairly across Kansas, something he said should be easy to fix.

The next problem in the high court’s opinion is adequacy, according to Francis.

“The Constitution says it’s our responsibility to provide education for all the kids in Kansas,” he said. “The court has said that’s about two parts. It’s about equity, and it’s about adequacy.”

Francis said those suing the state for a supposed underfunding of Kansas education have made the argument that an inadequacy has been created because school systems such as Liberal’s spend less money than districts that perform better than local schools.

Francis said one of the reasons the Supreme Court argues that the funding is not adequate is that 25 percent of students in the state are performing below their grade level, which is above the national average of 15 percent. The local representative further said some of that difference may have to do with funding, but he likewise thinks demographics are a factor.

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, Francis said, believe Kansas education is underfunded by as much as $600 million, a dollar figure that may hold water for the argument when compared to education money spent in nearby state.

“If you look at what Iowa spends, if you look at what Nebraska spends, if you look at Wisconsin spends, neighboring states that outperform us, that’s about the amount of money that they spend more for education than we do if you adjust for the number of students they have,” he said. “That’s the case for increasing education.”

On the other side of the debate, Francis said an education system such as Liberal’s is a great one primarily because of local control.

“I would also say maybe money really isn’t the issue. You look at USD 480, USD 480 has not maximized all the resources they have,” he said.

Francis said the state’s constitution needs to be clarified to help better deal with the educational funding issue.

“How many of you would be in favor of a constitutional amendment that better defines what an adequate education in the State of Kansas would be?” he said. 

Francis said lawmakers may have that choice in the near future.

“We’ve got to get enough votes in the House to let it happen,” he said. “I think we have to protect ourselves on equity. We have to make sure that the court still decides whether Kansas taxpayers are paying the same as Johnson County taxpayers because they’ve got more votes than we do.”

No matter what is done, Francis said the issue is causing headaches for legislators.

“School funding is sucking all the air out of the room in Topeka,” he said.  

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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