by Judith Deedy
Third of three.
We hear a lot about the rising cost of public education in Kansas, with the implication that increased spending on K-12 education must somehow be wasteful. But we ignore current reality at our own and our children’s peril. Here are some facts that show why Kansas needs to make “suitable provision” for the financing of public education, and why the cost of doing so is more now than it has been in the past:
- We have more students in poverty and more English-language learners (ELLs). These students often cost more to educate, but failing to educate them is short-sighted and will cost more in the future. Additionally, we still have to meet the needs of the children in the middle and those who are excelling.
- Federal legislation such as No Child Left Behind means teachers can’t ignore that Johnny isn’t learning at grade level, and schools are measured by their proficiency percentages. That means extra resources have to be devoted to help ensure that all children are achieving.
- Special education students used to be excluded from the public schools. We now not only include them, we “mainstream” them to the extent possible. This means an increase in teachers and aides for those students, as well as a need for smaller overall class sizes.
- More children are staying in school longer. Graduation rates are at an all-time high in Kansas and across the country. This means there are more children in the system longer. That is a good thing, but leads to more dollars spent on education.
- Education simply needs to be better now – a lot better. In 1973, just 28% of jobs in the US economy required more than a high school diploma. In 2010 that number had jumped to 59%, and by 2020, it is estimated that 65% of all jobs will require more than a high school diploma.
- Technology is expensive, but essential. Equipping classrooms with computers and iPads costs a lot more than putting an overhead projector in every room, but children today need to be able to use technology effectively in order to participate in a global economy.
- School districts are consumers as well as producers. They face rising costs for the items they purchase. As a service industry, a high percentage of their costs arises from wages and benefits. Health insurance costs have far outpaced inflation and school districts share that burden.
- In the past, KPERS (the teachers’ retirement system) wasn’t included in school funding figures. That changed a few years ago, but what hasn’t changed is that KPERS was historically underfunded; those extra, makeup payments for KPERS are in the budget now. Those funds are in school district accounts for only about 24 hours and cannot be used for any other expenses.
Just as we can’t go to the grocery store and refuse to pay more for a gallon of milk today than we did when we were children, we cannot expect schools to prepare students for today’s world on the budgets of the past. We cannot ignore reality. We must ensure that we make adequate provision for our children’s education; the welfare of our children and of our entire state depend upon it.read more