Maddy Mikinski
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Guest Columnist
American students’ right to a public education is explicitly guaranteed by all 50 states’ constitutions. Each state assumes a responsibility that is essential to the furthering and betterment of our society. After the 1973 Supreme Court decision of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the burden of funding our nation’s public schools was been placed squarely upon the states.
Kansas, under Gov. Sam Brownback, has broken its constitutional promise to its students from kindergarten to college, and completely ignored the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since Brownback took office in 2011, he and the legislature have slowly and deliberately whittled away Kansas’s education budget to the detriment of students and teachers across the state.
On May 2, the legislature finally voted and passed a budget that would, among other decreases, cut funding by three percent for Kansas colleges and universities. This three percent cut only piles on to cuts the state’s postsecondary schools have experienced over Brownback’s tenure.
Kansas’s public universities and colleges, including the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, aren’t the only ones suffering. Our elementary, middle, and high schools are having an even harder time making ends meet.
Last year, the Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that six school districts would close earlier than anticipated due to budget cuts. Districts including Concordia, Smoky Valley and Twin Valley shaved days off their school year in order to operate within the minimal budget they were given. Martin Stessman, superintendent of the Shawnee Heights school district, announced that the district’s plan to end the school year early was an attempt “to get through the current year.”
Despite the widespread closures, which legislators should have taken as a warning sign, Kansas educational budgets continue to be cut.
This March, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling on state education and a threat to legislators. According to The Wichita Eagle, the Supreme Court found the legislature and Brownback’s education “block grant” to be in violation of the state’s constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court’s San Antonio Independent School District decision. The court ordered legislators to provide an acceptable and serviceable budget for Kansas public schools by June 30 or risk shutting down the Kansas public school system completely.
Instead of complying with the court’s order, legislators and Brownback grumbled about the decision, shifting the blame onto the court. “Kansas has among the best schools in the nation,” the governor said in a statement, “and an activist Kansas Supreme Court is threatening to shut them down.”
On April 18, a little over two months after the Kansas court issued its decision, US News found that Kansas, which Brownback said had “among the best schools in the nation,” ranked 46th in the country in education. According to The Washington Post, Kansas spent approximately $9,828 per student in 2015, while number one-ranked Maryland spent $13,829.
In response to its ruling on school equity, the Kansas Supreme Court faced legislative backlash when SB 439 was introduce. The bill was designed to ease the impeachment of supreme court justices. This is a dangerous and completely irresponsible threat to justices who are actively defending fifth graders’ right to learn multiplication tables.
What the numbers and the news stories are all pointing to is the fact that Kansas doesn’t value its children and students. By cutting education funding over and over again, Brownback and legislators are slowly denying Kansas students at all levels their right to a public education.
Children don’t benefit by having their school year cut short. They don’t benefit from using outdated textbooks and attending class in equally as outdated buildings.
Though the Kansas legislature and the governor claim to be of the people, they are acting at the expense of their constituents, to keep afloat a failed, misguided, and (ironically) uneducated tax plan. Even after receiving an order from Kansas’s highest court, Brownback and our state senate responded by saying that Kansas Supreme Court justices are the ones ignorant to the educational rights of Kansans and went so far as to threaten their impeachment.
Kansas lawmakers must realize that students aren’t a number on a page or an extraneous expense. Students at all levels of education are the future of our state and country. When we jeopardize their right to education, we’re jeopardizing the future of our state, as well.