In Americans United's fights against public school voucher schemes in state legislatures, we often remind legislators that public money should fund public schools. Private school vouchers divert taxpayer dollars from public schools, which serve 90 percent of our children, and funnel that money to private, mostly religious, schools.
Right now, there’s no better example of how private school voucher schemes would undermine public school funding than in Kansas. The Kansas state courts have already ruled that Kansas’ public schools are under-funded. Vouchers would make the situation for public schools even worse, as they would divert the limited existing funds to private schools. But some lawmakers keep pushing for new voucher schemes anyway. The good news is that this week, the Kansas House of Representatives twice voted down their voucher proposals.
Legislators in Kansas have been fighting over school funding since the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the under-funding of public education in the state violates the Kansas Constitution. The ruling calls on the legislature to provide adequate funding for its public schools. Starting in 2015, Kansas has already diverted over $1 million of taxpayer money to private schools through a “tuition tax credit” voucher, and they expanded the program further in 2017. Now, legislators have until April 30 to add more money to the public school fund.
But instead of providing money to this fund, some lawmakers suggested scrapping public school funding entirely, and instead sending all public school funding to private schools through vouchers.
During debate on Monday over funding for public schools, Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) offered an amendment that would have converted the entire school budget to vouchers if the state court decides the legislature hasn’t met its obligation to adequately fund the public schools. The measure failed, 80-41.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that many legislators “opposed the plan because it had no end date, would deplete public school funds, and students already enrolled in private schools would be eligible.”
Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) put it succinctly, remarking, “If you want to destroy public education and you want to create private schools, this is fine.”
Kansas House members were unable to find agreement on the funding measure on Monday, but they had better luck the next day and passed the aid package. But once again, they had to dodge a voucher plan.
Rep. Francis Awerkamp (R-St. Marys) proposed diverting taxpayer funds to create a voucher system in any school district that had brought the lawsuit challenging the inadequate public school funding. It was a clear punitive measure, and it failed on a voice vote.
The school funding bill now goes to the Kansas Senate. Members of that body are expected to grapple with the money question as well, but let’s hope they follow the House’s lead and keep vouchers out of the final bill. The people of Kansas deserve adequately funded public schools, not plans to divert funding from public schools to pay for private schools. Whether you’re from Kansas or another state, if you want to join in to stand up for public schools, remind your state legislators that you oppose private school vouchers.