Keith: We are starting off today with an important question: how much money should states spend on their students? It is a battle being fought all over America and one that has reached the highest court in the state of Kansas. Let’s toss it over to Scott Evans for the story.
Scott: Thanks, Keith. This week, schools in Kansas have something to look forward to. The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that the state, which has cut taxes and spending sharply, is not spending enough on public schools. A violation, the court said, of the state’s constitution. The ruling means that millions of dollars are coming back to poorer school districts in Kansas which had been devastated by recent budget cuts. The state’s governor Sam Brownback had led the charge to trim school money in Kansas.
Governor Sam Brownback: You know, everybody’s got to spend time now really analyzing this and how we move going forward.
Scott: Four hundred and seventy-five thousand children attend Kansas’s public schools. Their parents know firsthand the impact of those funding cuts.
Libby Kleeman: We don’t have a full-time librarian. We have no computer teacher…
Scott: Libby Kleeman’s two children and Diane Caton’s three grandchildren all go to Wichita public schools. The Kleemans live in the upper class suburb of Andover and Caton’s grandchildren go to school in a more middleclass neighborhood.
Diane Caton: When you begin to take away services, it’s the students that suffer.
Scott: They say schools across the board are feeling the cuts, rich and poor.
Libby: The stakes are high for every district in the state, for every child in the state.
Scott: Jardine Middle School has been hit even harder by the cuts to Kansas’s public schools over the last four-and-a-half years. Some kids here have so little that teachers help out and do their laundry.
Principal Laura Jo Atherly: What can I help you with?
Scott: Laura Jo Atherly is the school’s principal.
Principal Atherly: I thought we as a state had evolved and understood how important getting our kids ready for college and careers would be.
Scott: In 2005, a court ordered the state to pay $4,492 per student. In 2008, they spent $4,400. Now it is down to $3,838. That is $654 less per student than the state mandate.
Critics say in 2012 the state needed to cut money from somewhere after Kansas gave a $1.1 billion tax break that mostly benefited wealthy families – families like Libby Kleeman’s.
Libby: The tax cuts were not important to me. I mean, I would rather the money go to school funding and other necessary things that the government does.
Scott: State Representative Steve Brunk supports the cuts and says the real issue is how schools are spending their money.
Representative Steve Brunk: It’s been estimated that we can save $300-400 million just in administrative fees by having more efficient school management.
Scott: This isn’t just a Kansas issue. There are 45 other states closely watching what happens in this case, and there are lawsuits in all of them that challenge the level of public school funding. So it is safe to say the battle for school budgets is far from over.
Back to you, Keith.