Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has announced $44.5 million in education cuts to the 2014-2015 academic budget to take effect on March 7.
On February 5, after weeks of speculation, Governor Brownback used executive authority to order cuts to public K-12 and higher education funding, 1.5% and 2% respectively, in order to keep the state solvent for the remainder of the fiscal year. School districts and Kansas Board of Regents universities are expected to balance budgets from their own reserve funds.
Despite Brownback’s claims of increasing state education funding, he has simply partially restored funding lost to previous cuts. Spending in 2014 was down on average $548 per pupil from 2008, when it was at its highest under then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius. When adjusted for inflation, that amounts to a loss of $500 million in state funding in just over five years. A 2014 Kansas Supreme Court ruling found that budget cuts were harming students and underfunding some districts, and ordered $129 million added to the 2014-2015 education budget.
After eliminating Head Start funding from his first budget as governor — a move that he corrected after public outcry — the governor declined to support a grant proposal that aimed to expand and enhance preschools, citing state funding requirements even though the application explicitly stated there was no required cost sharing. Just last winter, Brownback visited kindergarten classrooms across the state to promote his push for free all-day kindergarten programs, but that plan was postponed, at best, in order to satisfy the court’s ruling for equitable school funding. Now districts are enticing experienced teachers with early retirement packages, thereby creating vacancies that could be filled by an inordinate number of less experienced — and less expensive — teachers.
Kansas students and teachers are currently suffering the consequences of income and sales tax cuts, but the true impacts will be felt for years to come. Research shows that children who participate in early childhood programs such as prekindergarten and Head Start enter school with fewer socioeconomic-related learning gaps and more prepared for success in school. Additionally, full-day kindergarten programs continue to close income-related learning gaps, lead to higher reading scores and literacy rates in early grades, and improve students’ long-term achievement. Students’ continued literacy development is largely contingent upon teachers’ knowledge and use of literacy strategies, much of which is passed from teachers with more years of experience to those who are newer to the profession, especially in the upper grades.
Cuts to education funding have undermined the governor’s declaration that improving literacy and graduation rates were among his top priorities. An anticipated $400 million to $600 million budget shortfall in the 2015 fiscal year has the state’s public school districts and regents universities bracing for yet another round of education cuts.