KASB President’s Perspective: Tax policy matters for public educationAustin Harris
For many years, I have firmly believed that the high quality of public education in Kansas is one of the most important and compelling economic development, recruitment, and retention tools available. Our schools play an essential role in the quality-of-life metrics that attract families and businesses to come to or remain in our communities. Often, though, it has been my perception that the role of our schools in these discussions is at best overlooked, or at worst, undervalued or dismissed.
So, it was with great excitement that I attended several days of meetings in September and October for Governor Laura Kelly’s Council on Tax Reform; I am serving as a representative of KASB on the Council. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to share a public education perspective on the myriad tax policy issues before this distinguished group of leaders from across the state.
Governor Kelly has charged the Council with:
- identifying goals, initiatives, performance metrics, and other methods of assessing or achieving increased effectiveness and fairness in the state’s tax system;
- exploring, assessing, recommending and reporting on various tax strategies and policies that may increase the effectiveness and fairness of the state’s tax system; and
- receiving input from the public — including relevant non-profit or business stakeholders, experts, and other organizations not represented on the Council — regarding various tax strategies or policies.
In her Executive Order creating the Council, Governor Kelly noted that “a fair and efficient tax policy at the state level is essential to growing the economy, allowing all Kansans to thrive, and adequately and predictably funding both state and local government budgets.”
During the Council’s first meetings, I received a crash course on the complex systems of income, property, and sales tax for individuals and businesses in our state, and how those systems relate to, interact with, and compare to our neighboring states and peer states around the country.
The Council also heard reports from several state agencies, including Commerce Secretary David Toland on the renewed efforts of his agency to attract businesses to our state, and Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz regarding the impact of tax policy on KDOT and the highway program. We learned about current tax policy issues and proposals from the 2019 Legislative Session, such as taxation of Internet sales, proposed changes to the sales tax on food, and the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on our state tax system.
The Council has also noted a number of challenges emerging from these early discussions: sales taxes are high and complicated, with a number of inconsistencies; property taxes are also high, a situation worsened by shrinking state support to local governments; and the economic health of the state relies on business and population growth, making it imperative to pursue quality-of-life improvements that require stable revenue.
Which brings me back to the importance of input from public education in this discussion. Schools are an essential component of the quality-of-life metrics that contribute to business and population growth. Therefore school leaders have a key role as community partners to ensure students graduate with the skills to continue their education and be successful in the workforce and as contributing members in their community.
Public education also has a huge stake in a fair and equitable tax policy that brings in stable, predictable revenue. The state’s investment in public schools is significant; education advocates need to understand these tax discussions and how they might impact the state’s investment in schools’ operations and our children’s futures.
I encourage you to follow the work of the Governor’s Council over the next 18 months (visit governor.kansas.gov/newsroom/council-on-tax-reform). Tax policy matters for public schools, and the recommendations of this Council may matter a great deal as the Legislature grapples with budget priorities and the need to ensure the future revenue necessary to meet the school funding commitments made under Gannon to our students and our communities.