Dr. Walt Chappell of Wichita is a newly-elected member of the Kansas State Board of Education. He has some realistic perspectives on school spending in Kansas. As the Kansas legislature struggles to close the gap in the budget, the public school spending lobby is resisting cuts.
Substantial cuts in K-12 spending are both necessary and possible this year
With a billion dollar deficit in the General Fund, the Legislature is required by the State Constitution to balance the FY2010 budget. Since K-12 education is 51% of that budget, substantial savings must be found without cutting vital instructional programs. The question is — where to make these cuts in spending with the least impact on student learning and classroom teachers.
It’s all about making choices. The Federal Stimulus dollars are targeted to students who qualify for Title I, Title II and Special Ed. funding. So, many subjects and programs will be cut if the Legislature does not take action now to first make substantial savings in non-instructional expenses.
For example, Driver’s Education is being cut back yet traffic accidents are the main cause for death among teenagers. The Kansas School for the Deaf and the Kansas School for the Blind are being considered to be closed after nearly 100 years of service. Where will these deaf and blind students go to attend school? Local schools do not have the staff, specialized equipment or facilities to teach these students. Without proper instruction, these young people will need expensive tax supported services the rest of their lives. Likewise, fine arts, foreign language and vocational education courses are being cut or scaled back just when we need them most.
As a strong supporter of public education, I have proposed five specific legislative actions which will save nearly $500 million dollars per year. It is clear, that without substantial savings in K-12 education this legislative session — while Federal Stimulus dollars take up the slack — the hole to fill will be much bigger next year.
It is time to save the instructional programs our kids need to compete in a global economy. Merging the hundreds of small Kansas school districts, increasing the productivity of K-12 teachers and college faculty plus putting a hold on the use of State matching funds for new school construction projects will make sure we are making wise choices.
As an example, the passage of SB20 will save about $100 million per year and put a temporary hold on using State money for bonds sold after January 1, 2009. This is a realistic and practical way to help “stop the bleeding” of taxpayer dollars and save that money for more important education and State programs. It will also cause local districts to rethink which building projects they really need.
Let’s work together to find practical ways to reduce spending and save money for high priority programs. For me, cuts in instructional programs are not an option when major savings can first be achieved from reductions in educational administrative, transportation, operation and maintenance costs.
Businesses and families throughout Kansas and America are making these tough choices. I know that you are also thinking hard and want to do the right thing for Kansas students and families. So, please make substantial cuts in non-instructional programs now so that vital education programs and State services can continue.
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