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The Future of Education Funding? Kansas

December 15, 2014

In the last election cycle many States elected “fiscal conservatives” who believe corporate tax cuts are the road to prosperity. Sam Brownback (and his like minded colleagues Chris Christie and Scott Walker) decided four years ago that cutting corporate taxes would stimulate the economy in his state. But, as today’s NYTimes reports, that hasn’t happened. The new jobs haven’t materialized and new revenues that would result from those new jobs is non-existent and as a result Kansas is facing a large deficit…. and Brownback is faced with a dilemma: he either needs to cut far deeper than the public will support or face the music and roll back the tax. The sad reality for KS teachers and school children is that he seems intent on cutting even more deeply into their state funds. In addition to making cuts to pension funds, infrastructure projects, and every government program outside of schools and Medicare (more on this below), Governor Brownback is proposing the redirection of funds for early childhood education:

A state advocacy organization for children said that the governor’s proposal to transfer $14.5 million out of an endowment for early-childhood education programs could affect services in the future. The money comes from a settlement with tobacco companies and is used to fund things like Early Head Start, preschool and a program that trains parents to teach their young children skills at home.

With the transfer, the endowment balance is less than $100,000. Each year, the fund receives a check for $50 million to $70 million, said Christie Appelhanz, the vice president for public affairs for Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group. But the programs cost about $50 million a year to administer, she said.

“We’re really calling into question the stability of early-childhood programs in Kansas for the future,” she said.

And why isn’t Brownback cutting education funding? Because the courts ruled that the current funds are inadequate to provide fair and equitable funding for schools in accordance with the state constitution. So based on my reading of previous articles on this State’s woeful legislature, here’s what KS will be considering to balance the budget going forward:

  • Amending the constitution so that fewer tax dollars go to schools
  • Unilaterally changing pension formulas
  • Selling off as many state owned assets as possible to yield one-time savings that will help balance the budget for a year
  • Transferring money from categorical funds like those cited above to help keep other government services afloat
  • Privatizing to save money (and pay people less)

When this is kind of government strategy is transferred to the national level— and it looks more and more like it will be— expect the same kind of scenario at the Federal level with a slightly different twist since the Federal government, unlike the States, can operate in a deficit for the short term:

  1. Convince voters that deficits are bad
  2. Convince voters that spending at the Federal government level is “out of control” and full of “waste fraud, and corruption”, especially spending for social services
  3. Convince voters that tax cuts will stimulate the economy to help close the deficit
  4. Give huge tax breaks to private corporations
  5. Sell as many assets as possible (the Onion suggested selling Grand Canyon to China— which may not be so far fetched after we recently appropriated parklands from Native Americans to allow fracking)
  6. Cut as many pension obligations as possible
  7. Privatize services (and lower wages to make this pay off)

If the first four items on the list sound familiar, it’s because they’ve already happened. And if you don’t think the next three items on the list are possibilities, look no further than Kansas, NY, and Wisconsin— they’ve successfully accomplished the first four steps and to balance their budgets they are implementing the next three… and school children in those states— especially the children raise in poverty– are suffering as a result.


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