Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Kyle Carlin is currently the Director of Special Education for the West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative in Hays.

Growing up, my grandfather taught me the importance of keeping promises. I was a bit of a jerk when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and I’m pretty sure I caused all of my grandmother’s gray hair.

One summer day when I was in elementary school, I promised that I would finish the chores before she got home from work. Before I could start I got distracted and found myself on the street at my friend Josh’s house. A little after 4 p.m., her house phone rang and her mother said it was for me.

It didn’t take me long to realize I had messed up. Grandma wasn’t happy that I didn’t do what I said I would do.

I backtracked, just in time for Grandpa to come through the door and hear what I had failed to do. I’ve heard of “all you have is your word” and “when you make a promise, you keep it”. I also acquired a lot more household chores that weren’t as enjoyable as walking around the house.

It wasn’t fun, but it helped me learn that promises matter.

Currently, the Kansas Legislature is not delivering on its promise to all students. Despite claims that education is fully funded, special education is currently not adequately funded. By law, Kansas is supposed to fund 92% of special education costs that are not covered by federal funds. It is currently 76% funded.

This means that school districts have to pay more than $100 million every year on top of what they should be paying. By the 2023-2024 school year, the amount covered will drop to 64% (over $175 million less).

Special educational needs must be met, so local school districts cover excess costs to ensure students have what they need. However, this means that each district is not able to fund general education programs as well as it would like.

Special educational needs must be met, so local school districts cover excess costs to ensure students have what they need. However, this means that each district is not able to fund general education programs as well as it would like.

For my communities, that means tough decisions that affect class sizes, staff salaries, and the resources available to all students. Budgets for special education and general education are tight and we have to figure out what we are going to do without.

Special education needs are always met, but we know that a teacher with 16 students on their workload can be more effective than a teacher with 24 students on their workload. We also know that teachers are more successful when they can receive quality training and are supported by adequately paid paraeducators. These are much more difficult to provide when the pennies are pinched.

In other parts of the state, those tough decisions will include talks about closing school districts. It’s a huge challenge for rural Kansas. Once the schools are closed, Main Street follows soon after.

Fortunately, there is a great opportunity to fix this.

Kansas currently has one of the largest budget surpluses in its history. Now is the time for Kansas to fund special education appropriately and finally deliver on its 92% pledge.

The only people with the power to change that are the members of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate. If you are a parent or community member concerned about opportunities for all students, you need to let these legislators know what your school and community need.

Please reach out to your Representative and Senator and share what full special education funding would mean for you and your school. Ask them to include appropriate funding for special education in the Kansas budget when they return to Topeka on April 25. You can find your legislators here.

Remind them of the power of a promise in Kansas.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.