Kansans have long recognized that education is key to economic growth. In 1874, the Territorial Legislature took the first steps to increase school attendance by passing a compulsory school attendance law. The rationale: “education was key to the state’s growth and development, since a literate and skilled citizenry could help build business and industry.” Over 150 years later, as state lawmakers seek to “make the Sunflower State the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business,”2 the link between education, workforce, and economic growth endures. Then as now, investment in public education directly correlates to Kansas’ stake in the national and global economy.
Unfortunately, Kansas struggles to keep pace with the investments necessary to ensure K-12 education remains relevant and responsive to workforce demands. Following a recent series of tax policy changes, the state continues to lose ground as job growth lags and revenue continues to trend downward.
Kansas faces big challenges. We are dealing with recurring budget crises. We are not making strategic and long-term decisions. We are not talking about the investments necessary to fund K-12 education. We are not talking about the opportunity cost of not investing in education. We are not generating enough private sector jobs.
For Kansas to remain competitive, policymakers and the governor must recommit to supporting K-12 public education, a critical part of the workforce development pipeline, with the resources necessary to create the next big economic surge.