In October 2017, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Kansas is failing to provide “a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to … Kansas school children.” The court has determined that “adequate and equitable,” words that are not in the Kansas Constitution, mean how much to spend and whether the money is being divided fairly between rich and poor districts.
Much of the information in this column is from reporting in the Kansas City Star. Statistics are from numerous sources. This column is an attempt to determine how much additional spending for K-12 education we taxpayers would have to cough up.
The Legislature pumping $488 million into schools in 2017 and proposing an additional $194 million in 2018 is not enough for those who demand an additional $893 million. On April 2, the Kansas House rejected a proposed $500 million increase. Democrats failed in an attempt to add $295 million to that. The bill is still being debated.
What is known as the Taylor report, which is not available online, is currently before the Legislature. The report uses graduation rates as a measure of education effectiveness. The national average for 2016 is 84.1 percent. The Kansas graduation rate in 2016 was 85.9 percent, 23rd in the nation. Iowa has the highest graduation rate in the nation at 91.3 percent.
The Taylor report calls for a 95 percent graduation rate. That is 9 percent higher than the current rate and almost 4 percent higher than any state in the country. The study concludes that achieving such a rate would cost at least $2 billion. Without access to the Taylor study, it is not possible to determine how that price tag was determined.
To achieve 85.9 percent, Kansas spent $6 million or $13,124 per student from all sources in FY 2015 alone. Of that, $12,023 was provided by state and local governments. Most of that is from property taxes.
Can Kansas afford to spend an additional $2B on education?
According to the Star’s reporting, to achieve a 1 percent gain in high school graduation rate would require 1.9 percent increase in funding. To achieve a 95 percent rate would require a 17 percent increase in spending. But that new spending comes only to $7.1 million, a $1.1B increase. Where does the additional revenue of $900 million come from to meet a $2B increase?
The average property owner in Kansas pays a property tax of $2,532. According to the Star, to achieve a 95 percent graduation rate funded solely by property tax would double or triple the average tax bill. For the average property owner, that would mean a tax bill of $5,064 or even $7,596. If the latter, Kansans would pay the second largest average tax bill in the nation. Both of those averages are higher than our four border states.
Kansas competes with Missouri for businesses. If Kansas were to increase its property tax rate from 1.4 percent to 1.9 percent, what would be the incentive for businesses and families to locate here?
Would they flock to Kansas so they can claim they live in the state with the second highest tax rate in the country?
How much of its budget does Kansas spend on K-12? The Kansas Policy Institute concludes that in FY 2015 the state spent 50.7 percent of its budget on K-12. The Kansas Association of School Boards claims we spent 29.6 percent, which was third highest in the nation. The National Association of State Budget Officers reports Kansas spent 30.2 percent of its budget on K-12, second highest in the nation. Pick a number.
Can we really afford to add $2B to the budget, to devote a higher percentage to K-12 or absorb double or triple tax rates?
If the goal is to bankrupt the state, then doubling or tripling the property tax rate and increasing the percentage of state expenditures is a great way to do it.
Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.