Some taking glee at cutting school budgets, it seems

Last week the consensus estimating group that calculates how much money the state will take in said income will drop by 4.2 percent between now and July 1, when the fiscal year begins. Their words were still echoing in the Capitol halls when legislative budget chairmen said spending on the public schools would have to be cut.
The economists estimated revenue would fall by at least $235 million, which could leave a budget gap of as much as $460 million to fill.
Because K-12 education funding consumes about 52 percent of the general fund and higher education takes another 12 percent, it would be impossible to balance the state budget without cutting spending on education — without additional revenues.
While this reading of the facts is accurate, it is exasperating to hear the men and women who were elected to do the most good for the greatest number of Kansans swear by all that’s holy that taking money away from the public schools is the FIRST thing that should be done to deal with shrinking tax revenues. This mantra has been chanted ad nauseam at every session since state balances began to fall early in Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration.
Education is the most important function of state government. It should be the last to feel the budget cutter’s ax. Rather than look for ways to put the children of Kansas first, far too many of our legislators appear to be taking a perverse pleasure in the prospect of taking back some of the money the Supreme Court decision forced them to appropriate to bring the state’s schools up to “adequate.”
While none dare say it aloud, today one can hear “they had it coming!” in their actions. It is as if the schools were the enemy and the lawmakers were defending the people from them.

STATE appropriations for education were cut substantially this year, despite the millions used from the federal stimulus package. Further reductions between now and January will be made by Gov. Mark Parkinson to keep the state in the black as the law requires.
When the Legislature convenes, however, the lawmakers have choices. Their first step should be to ask the federal government for another infusion of stimulus money to be spent solely on education. Only half of the stimulus appropriation has been spent. More than $370 billion remains for Congress to allocate. Sending a substantial part of that to the states to allow their public schools and universities to do their jobs well should have the highest priority.
And, yes, Kansas should increase its revenue in various ways. The tax cuts given when revenues had already started to fall below spending levels should be rescinded. The tax ex-emptions that reduce income from sales and property taxes should be repealed. Finally, taxes should be raised to make up the difference be-tween a conservative estimate of state income and an equally realistic budget that does what should be done for the people of Kansas.
The first of these demands is a system of public education that equips this generation of emerging adults to perform at the top level of today’s world work force. That system, which ranges from pre-school through university graduate school, is already at risk because past Legislatures failed to provide and failed to anticipate.
The people of Kansas should not allow their so-called representatives to compound those past false economies in the coming year.
Maybe it is true that allowing our slow economy to set state policy would mean cutting school budgets to and through the bone and forcing universities to cut back on enrollments. That’s the equivalent of meeting a challenge by lying down, rolling over and accepting fate.
The alternative is to meet adversity by finding ways to overcome it. That’s the approach the founders of Kansas thought best.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.