According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities thirteen states have cut per-student education funding by more than 10 percent since the recession began five years ago. The top four school finance slashers are Oklahoma, which has cut funding for K-12 public education by 22.7 percent, Alabama by 20.1 percent, Arizona by 17.2 percent, and Kansas by 16.5 percent.
In a 2006 decision, Montoy v. State, the supreme court of Kansas “ordered cost-based, sufficient, and equitable funding,” “based upon actual costs to educate children,” according to the Education Law Center (here, here, and here). However, the legislature failed to fund the remedy fully, and as the economy of Kansas began to recover from the 2008 recession, Governor Sam Brownback and the legislature passed a five-year $3.7 billion tax cut instead of increasing the amount of money for public education.
In response, in 2010 plaintiffs pushed back, filing Gannon v. State, and leading to a unanimous trial court decision early in January 2013 in support of more funding for K-12 public schools. The trial court demanded that the state immediately increase investment in education by at least $440 million. The state, of course, appealed , and last week the supreme court in Kansas heard oral arguments.
Because Kansas is so very far in every way from New York, I was stunned to see the New York Times take the unusual step of editorializing in this case: “The court should quickly put priorities in order by affirming a lower-court ruling last January that found the state ‘completely illogical’ in using the new revenues to provide tax cuts while arguing it had inadequate resources for educating schoolchildren.”
Because all the states have different education funding formulas and because it all gets to seeming like an arcane bunch of numbers, I think it is easy to gloss over the school finance inadequacy and inequity in other states where the cuts don’t affect my own children or neighbors or community. Problems for those other places can seem pretty far away. But when there is school finance trouble in my own state, the issues feel more personal than almost anything else. The school funding formula determines whether we have a school nurse, a school librarian, a middle school orchestra, a class in Calculus, Advanced Placement chemistry. Will the kindergarten class have 21 or 32 children? Will high school English teachers teach four classes of 25 or five classes of 35, a difference that will likely determine whether the teacher can assign and read enough essays to teach adolescents how to write. Will I as a parent have to spend months trying to pass a local school levy merely to replace programs eliminated when the state legislature cut the funding?
It should be a cause for concern everywhere in America that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “despite some improvements in overall state revenues, schools in around a third of states are entering the new school year (2013-2014) with less state funding than they had last year.” I am delighted to see the New York Times speaking to disturbing threats across the nation to K-12 public education, threats that derive not only from the lingering impact of the 2008 recession, but also from tax cuts by Tea Party-dominated legislatures and governors and the implications of the federal sequester for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.