With funding assured, school districts should raise teachers’ wages
No doubt, most everyone welcomed the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling Friday that state legislators have finally met their financial obligation to public K-12 schools with their most recent boost of $90 million a year for the next several years.
Once touted as the education state, Kansas’s reputation has been tainted by eight years of leadership that put tax cuts over funding schools, private before public.
Not all legislators are happy with the decision. Senate leaders Susan Wagle and Ron Ryckman interpreted the court’s warning that if legislators renege on their promises, the school districts can be back before the court without having to file a new lawsuit, as overreach.
Considering the high court has had to rule seven times in the last six years on school finance, it was prudent for them to leave the door open to future challenges.
Even Attorney General Derek Schmidt admitted that “sometimes promises made are not promises kept,” by legislators, according to the Associated Press.
It was in 2010 that school districts from Hutchinson, Kansas City, Wichita and Dodge City filed suit against the state.
Represented by Schools for Fair Funding, the school districts alleged legislators failed to meet their constitutional obligation mandated only a few years earlier by the 2006 Montoy decision, to adequately fund public K-12 education.
Indeed, budget cuts under Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure reversed school funding to levels before the 2008 recession, and it’s only been in the last two years that a bipartisan legislature has had the fortitude to buck ultra-conservatives and begin to give schools the tools they need to adequately teach all students.
The goal now is to restore general school funding to 2009 levels, after adjusting for inflation.
DISTRICTS should now feel confident they can address long-neglected obligations. None is more important than to raise salaries in order to not only attract more and better qualified teachers but also to encourage students to pursue education as a career.
From 2010 to 2018, teacher salaries in Kansas have increased 11.7%, down almost 6% from what peer states — those that have similar distributions of population — provide, according to a recent report by the Kansas Association of School Boards. Teachers in top-tier states — based on educational outcomes — have received increases of 24% in the same time frame.
The average salary for a beginning teacher in Kansas is $35,700, almost $5,000 below the national average.
Teachers and administrators in Kansas regard the last 10 years as “the lost decade,” because of leadership’s hostile attitude toward public education. Unfortunately for our students, they only get one shot at their K-12 education. There are no do-overs.
Going forward, the most effective way to invest in our students is by ensuring they have the best teachers possible. Providing a decent salary is key to getting there.
— Susan Lynn