School finance is not an easy subject to understand. Our elected officials know that, and they also understand that it’s not the kind of subject the average person is bound to spend a significant amount of their time studying. When they use this knowledge to deliberately create confusion among voters, that’s just playing dirty.
On Tuesday morning, newly appointed District 113 Representative Alicia Straub’s comments were aired on the local radio station during a segment on the recently enacted new school funding bill. It was shocking to hear her comments concerning our own USD 428’s decision to spend capital outlay dollars on new activity buses.
“It pains me to increase funding to education when I see school districts like USD 428 purchasing two brand new activity buses to the tune of $435,000,” she said. “It really pains me to vote for more funding because that’s how it’s being utilized. I don’t see those dollars making it to the classroom or making it to the teachers’ pockets.”
Now, Straub has been a fair and decent commissioner for Barton County, and many when she was picked to be appointed to fill Greg Lewis’s seat in the Kansas House of Representatives.
But those harsh comments are not only hard to swallow, they’re off target. Buses are a capital outlay expense. Straub should know that. If she doesn’t, perhaps her party has made a poor decision in asking her to fill that seat.
In a nutshell, here’s some school finance basics: The funds allotted each school district are divvied up into many different buckets, and the money in each bucket can only be spent for what it’s designated for.
The Capital Outlay bucket includes funds that pay for the tangible items that enhance learning such as new buses, new buildings and new turf.
Teacher salaries are paid from a district’s General Fund bucket, and that’s the bucket those additional dollars are meant to fill.
Metaphorically speaking, the school districts can’t steal from Peter to pay Paul. Much as they would like to, especially when good teachers turn in resignation letters and move on to greener pastures.
Straub’s comments echo those made a week earlier by Rep. Barbara Wasinger (R-Hays), who also pointed fingers at Great Bend, Russell and Shawnee school districts in a deliberate attempt to mislead the public about how these new dollars may be spent. This bears the question, are these comments simply part of a “sore loser” campaign by conservatives who were against the bill from the start?
One statement Wassinger made is true.
“Good teachers are leaving us because they’re not being paid enough,” she said. She also added, “Let’s start giving them some money.”
We agree. The new funding approved by both houses of the state legislature and Governor Laura Kelly last week is a start towards allowing that to happen.