Quality education fundamental to developing strong community
Two of the primary differences between developed and third-world countries can be found in the organization and quality of their educational systems. The recent proposal to cut funding to Kansas schools by $91 million causes us great concern about the future of our state. Kansas perennially ranks among the top-10 states in ACT scores and educational quality. The cuts proposed by the governor, and supported by some legislators, could jeopardize our ranking and begin a downward spiral from which Kansas might not recover.
One of the first tasks the settlers of the Lawrence and Eudora areas performed was to build schools. They understood education was the key to creating a safe and prosperous community. We, a prosperous community, must endeavor to protect our future by protecting our schools.
The governor's proposal to cut education and most of the state budget is a result of fiscally irresponsible action by the state Legislature. Huge perceived tax cuts have been implemented in Kansas since fiscal year 1996-97. These cuts have caused the state's expenditures (which have remained status quo in comparison to the inflation rate) to drive us to a $426 million deficit. We are aware that many of you have not benefited from these cuts. Home valuations have increased in an attempt to fill the void created by the reduced mill levy, but this was not enough. The winners in the tax-cut process were large corporations and energy companies. While homeowners try to shoulder the burden placed upon them by the Legislature's actions, the corporations reap the benefits.
Kansas funds schools by applying the school finance formula implemented in fiscal year 1994-95. This formula was established after a federal judge forced Kansas to change from locally funded educational systems to state funded educational systems. This system was established because districts like Eudora, who were poor in assessed valuation, could not offer the same level of educational services that more affluent communities could provide. When this system was implemented, 35 mills of property tax were collected from Kansas property owners. In fiscal year 1997-98, the legislator cut this levy to 27 mills. Then in fiscal year 1998-99, the state established our current mill rate at 20. Since the cut from 27 to 20 mills, the state has been deficit spending and missed out on $900 million of potential revenue.
We understand that no one likes to pay taxes. Midas used to run a commercial in which they said, "Pay me now or pay me later." In the case of the state budget, now is later. If the state wants to maintain its educational system, highways, system of corrections, and aid to senior citizens, they must find new sources of revenue. States produce revenue through taxation which means that taxes must be raised. Some legislators are calling for an increase in "sin taxes": 50-cents per pack of cigarettes and 50-cents on a six pack of beer. In addition, increases in the sales tax and fuel tax have been suggested.
Another idea is to place slot machines at dog tracks and lodges. These are all sources of revenue, but all are subject to fluctuations in the economy.
It is important to reiterate that many of you have not benefited from the property tax cuts the Legislature provided. Earlier, we wrote about increased assessed valuations, but we also need to mention the tax cuts were actually tax transfers. While cutting taxes collected by the state, the Legislature extended opportunities to school boards to establish a levy of its own in the form of a local option budget. Almost every school board in the state of Kansas was forced to implement the LOB in an effort to remain status quo. The state provided very minimal increases in funding to districts but extended more and more power to the local boards to increase local property taxes. As Rep. Lloyd Stone, R-Emporia, said at a recent meeting with local school representatives at Paola, "We know we have shifted the property tax burden to school boards, but it makes us feel better."
The problem this shift in local levies presents Eudora is that it places a much greater burden on our taxpayers than those in wealthier districts. The solution to this problem is not simple. The complexities associated with our state budget will not be addressed by increasing one source of revenue for one year. The Legislature needs to find a long-term solution that spreads the responsibilities of funding among all those who benefit. Our suggestion would be to look at increasing revenue from all existing tax sources while passing legislation that creates new sources of revenue.
Establishing this climate of creativity and shared responsibility from all Kansas citizens will allow our district, and others, to continue to prepare our children and society for the future.