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Kansas Legislators’ Resentment for Public Schools Grossly Inappropriate

February 17, 2018

An article by AP reporter John Hannah appeared in the Virginian-Pilot with this headline: “Kansas Public Schools Face Backlash on Endless Money Crisis”. The article describes the resentment Kansas legislators feel toward public schools for their insistence that they get the lions share of funding, which is forcing them to abandon their “pro-business” low taxation stance in order to fund things like schools, prisons, and infrastructure. As one legislator complained:

“It’s like the schools are the grain truck. Instead of sharing the grain, they just keep raising the sides on the bed and keeping it all for themselves,” said state Sen. Ty Masterson, a conservative Wichita-area Republican. “They’ve been able to keep themselves at the front of the line for a long time.”

What Mr. Masterson knows, I believe, is that the grain truck was replaced by a pick-up truck for years and the result if a long-standing deficiency in funds. As a public school advocate noted:

“You can’t blame schools,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union. “You can lament it all you want, but it’s a problem of your own making.”

And the problem will require lots of money to fix because Kansas avoided spending nearly enough money for decades. As Mr. Hanna reported:

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year — more than half of its general revenues — on its public schools. But the state Supreme Court ruled in October that even with a funding increase approved last year, it’s not sufficient under the state constitution.

The state has been in and out of lawsuits over education funding for decades, and the current one was filed in 2010 by four school districts. The Supreme Court has issued five rulings in the past four years requiring new spending on public schools.

In its last ruling in October, the court did not set a specific spending target but hinted that it could be $650 million more a year.

According to the GOP who passed the pro-business tax package that slashed spending in all areas, Kansas was supposed to be rolling in revenue by now since the new businesses they attracted would increase the tax base everywhere. Unsurprisingly, the tax cuts did nothing of the sort and so schools— especially schools serving low income children— suffered deep cuts and compromised programs. And now, the legislators who created this problem, are trying to turn taxpayers against the “greedy” schools who only want what is best for their students. The main reason for this desire to stir up resentment is the unflagging faith that taxes and government are bad… which means that any notion of increasing either is off the table.

“Maybe we say, ‘We’ve got to live within our means,'” said Senate budget committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a moderate Wichita-area Republican. “Maybe we need to reassess the direction we’re going.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said lawmakers are right to expect to squeeze other parts of state government if they increase spending on schools.

“That is the math of it,” he said. “There’s only so much taxpayer money.”

If the legislature is unwilling to contemplate higher taxes even though the lower taxes did not result in the anticipated stimulus to the businesses in the State, “the math of it” is immutable. But if the reassessment in the direction Kansas is going included an openness to higher taxes to provide superior government services, there would be more taxpayer money to spend and the schools, prisons, and infrastructure in the state would improve. And who knows? If those improved maybe some businesses might consider locating to their state. Lower taxes and crappy services didn’t work… Maybe it’s time to try something different.


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