Archives for category: Kansas

While driving yesterday, I listened to a panel discussion on taxes led by correspondent Stephanie Ruhle on MSNBC.

With the usual left-right line-up of guests, they debated whether the Trump tax plan would benefit the rich or everyone.

The man from the right was part of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. He insisted that massive tax cuts would be very beneficial for middle-income and poor Americans. The man from the left (center, really) disagreed and insisted that the big winners were the rich.

Then the center-left man said that the governor of Kentucky tried massive tax cuts and it backfired. He quickly was corrected (or corrected himself) and said it was Kansas, not Kentucky.

That’s where Governor Sam Brownback cut taxes, predicting an economic boom–that never happened. Instead, the state is facing a budget hole of nearly $900 million, and even Republicans recognize they must raise taxes.

But Mr. Right winger jumps in and says “the Kansas tax cuts would have worked, but the courts forced the state to spend massive amounts on K-12 schools, which gobbled up all the savings from the tax cuts.”

I almost jumped out of my car. I knew that the Kansas high court ordered the state to fund the schools, but the state has not yet done it.

So Mr. Right winger was wrong on two counts, but no one corrected him:

1. The state did not spend the non-existent savings produced by tax cuts on the schools, because there were none;

2. The courts were trying to enforce the state constitution and demanding equitable funding, which Mr. RW clearly thought was unnecessary.

Having flat out lied, he got away with it because no one else knew the facts. There was no bonanza from the tax cuts, and the K-12 schools have not yet received a dollar of new money.

See here:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kansas/articles/2017-06-05/kansas-lawmakers-reject-single-plan-on-taxes-school-funding

http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article161585073.html

The great puzzle in Kansas is how the State got such a thoughtful Supreme Court, one that actually cares about education.

Kansas is in a deep budget hole because Governor Sam Brownback cut taxes repeatedly, in the belief that low taxes would produce economic growth. Only it didn’t, and the schools are in big trouble.

The court has repeatedly ordered the state legislature to produce a school funding plan that meets the requirements of the state constitution. After years of budget cuts, the state’s schools are in dire need of money. At one point, legislators grumbled ominous threats about how they might shake up the court to undermine its authority.

But now the lawyers for the state are in court, and the justices are insistent on a commitment to a fair funding plan.

Attorneys for the state and the Legislature faced a barrage of questions from skeptical Kansas Supreme Court justices Tuesday scrutinizing the Legislature’s school finance plan.

Solicitor general Stephen McAllister and Jeff King, a former Senate vice president, sought to fend off claims from school districts that Kansas is doing too little to make up for several years in which budget cuts and funding stagnation became the norm and school budgets fell behind inflation.

The justices repeatedly interrupted their arguments to seek deeper clarification of calculations the state cited to justify adding $293 million to school funding over the next two years. And they showed some interest in potentially retaining jurisdiction once they have issued their ruling, to ensure the state complies.

McAllister and King stood their ground, arguing the state’s solution meets the court’s previous demands.

“S.B. 19 makes substantial efforts to improve the funding,” McAllister said, using the plan’s legislative bill number.

Digging into the math

In the span of Gannon v. Kansas’ seven-year history, district court judges and the state Supreme Court have repeatedly struck down Kansas’ school funding schemes as unconstitutional.

Among the justices’ concerns in this latest round of the legal battle was a statistical analysis of student achievement that the Legislature generated this spring and used to extrapolate what statewide funding should be. The calculation was based on spending levels at 41 school districts found to be performing well on certain academic outcomes.

“I understand the math,” Justice Dan Biles told McAllister. “I need to know what makes that reliable and valid, and I’m not seeing it here.”

‘I understand the math. I need to know what makes that reliable and valid, and I’m not seeing it here.’ — Justice Dan Biles
The justices homed in on methodological particulars, such as the use of averages instead of medians and whether the omission of budget changes at six school districts could have skewed the results. And they questioned whether lawmakers had cherry-picked portions of past school finance studies to minimize the state’s financial obligations.

Justice Eric Rosen asked about the state’s reliance on local property taxes to fund education through a system that allows school boards to elect to spend more. The concern is that poorer school districts are less likely to do so because of the burden on local taxpayers.

“What happens to those children?” he said, referring to students in those areas.

When Sam Brownback became governor of Kansas, he was all fired up with a simple yet radical idea: Cut taxes and businesses will expand and the economy will grow. State revenues dropped dramatically. School funding suffered deep cuts. Social services of all kinds lost money. And now the legislature is repudiating Brownback’s tax cuts. They voted to increase taxes. Brownback, having learned nothing, vetoed the budget. The legislature overrode his veto.

Farewell, Governor Brownback. And good riddance to failed ideas.

The students are our future. And the students give me hope.

When I hear “reformers” like DeVos and Gates and Klein and Rhee claim that our schools are “failure factories,” that they are “obsolete,” that they are a “deadend,” and that our students are woefully undereducated, I will think of the students at this typical high school in Kansas. They unmasked a fraud. They engaged in critical thinking. No one paid them to do it. They demonstrated initiative, intelligence, and persistence. They are far smarter than the “reformers” who run them and their generation down.

In Kansas, student journalists checked out the credentials of their newly hired principal. The “university” that she cited as the source of her MA and doctorate didn’t exist. They investigated further and broke the story. The new principal resigned without ever taking office.

Connor Balthazor, 17, was in the middle of study hall when he was called into a meeting with his high school newspaper adviser.

A group of reporters and editors from the student newspaper, the Booster Redux at Pittsburg High School in southeastern Kansas, had gathered to talk about Amy Robertson, who was hired as the high school’s head principal on March 6.

The student journalists had begun researching Robertson, and quickly found some discrepancies in her education credentials. For one, when they researched Corllins University, the private university where Robertson said she got her master’s and doctorate degrees years ago, the website didn’t work. They found no evidence that it was an accredited university.

“There were some things that just didn’t quite add up,” Balthazor told The Washington Post.

The students began digging into a weeks-long investigation that would result in an article published Friday questioning the legitimacy of the principal’s degrees and of her work as an education consultant.

On Tuesday night, Robertson resigned.

This is a reminder why freedom of the press is so important to our democracy.

For the second time in the past year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state is not spending enough on public schools. Governor Sam Brownback has tried to prove that he could be the nation’s leading tax-cutter, but his tax cuts have generated large budget deficits. Now that he is under court order to raise education spending, his response is not to come up with new money but to offer school choice. This lays bare the rationale for school choice as a way to cut costs and to avoid providing adequate resources.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said black, Hispanic and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to lagging test scores and graduation rates. The justices set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new constitutional funding formula, sending them scrambling to find more money to pay for a solution.

This is the second time in about a year that Kansas’ highest court has ruled against the state’s approach to paying for schools, just as Mr. Brownback finds himself wrestling with growing budget deficits and as his relations with fellow Republicans have deteriorated to new lows.

Mr. Brownback, who has made cutting taxes and shrinking government the centerpiece of his administration since taking office in 2011, championed the largest tax cuts in state history, turning Kansas into a national testing ground for his staunchly conservative philosophy. But the state has since struggled with gaping deficits, and patience has run thin, even among some former allies.

Just last month, the Republican-dominated Legislature approved a tax increase that would have raised more than $1 billion to help narrow the budget gap — a bold rejection of Mr. Brownback’s vision. In the end, the governor vetoed the measure, and he barely survived an override attempt. The school funding ruling now adds yet another layer of fiscal trouble for Kansas and political tumult for Mr. Brownback.

“Either the governor will have to bend, or we have to get enough votes in the House and Senate to override him,” Dinah Sykes, a Republican state senator, said, noting that lawmakers will have to get to work immediately to find money in the budget to satisfy the court’s requirements. “I thought that the tax plan that we put on his desk that was vetoed, I thought that was a compromise,” Ms. Sykes said.

Governor Brownback doesn’t want to raise taxes, he doesn’t want to provide extra funding, so he turns to choice as his only answer:

Mr. Brownback, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election next year, has faced plunging approval ratings and increasingly criticism from the moderate wing of the Republican Party. In a statement, he acknowledged that some students in Kansas had not received a suitable education, calling for a new funding formula to “right this wrong.”

“The Kansas Legislature has the opportunity to engage in transformative educational reform by passing a school funding system that puts students first,” Mr. Brownback said. “Success is not measured in dollars spent, but in higher student performance.”

He made a pitch for schools outside of the public education system, suggesting that parents “should be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”

The hollowness of this offer is transparent.

Voters in Massachusetts rejected Question 2, which would have authorized a dozen new charter schools every year. The margin, at last word, was 62-38%.

Voters in Georgia rejected Amendment 1, which would have allowed the Governor to take over low-scoring schools and put them in an “Opportunity School District,” a district of charter schools, whether for-profit or non-profit. Georgians apparently didn’t like the idea of abolishing local control of their schools. The vote was similar to Massachusetts, 60-40%. Voters were not fooled by the deceptive language.

Voters in Washington State re-elected the Supreme Court judges who declared that charter schools are not public schools, rejecting the judges supported by Bill Gates.

Our fight for public education continues. Now, with Donald Trump as President, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) works in our favor. He will turn over federal funds to the states without strings, and we will fight in every state to make sure that those funds are allocated to provide a better education for all children. From the results in Massachusetts and Georgia, we know that the majority is on the side of public schools.

We will win some, we will lose some, but we won’t give up. We will do what is right for children. We will defend teachers and the teaching profession. We will defend democratically-controlled public education. We will protect the public good.

Do not despair. Join the Network for Public Education. Plan to join us next October in Oakland, California, and help us plan for the future.

*PS: Wendy Lecker, civil rights lawyer, points out in the comments that voters in Kansas retained all the judges who ruled in favor of full funding for public schools, rebuffing Governor Brownback.
http://kcur.org/post/all-kansas-supreme-court-justices-retained

Good news from Kansas yesterday.

In the Republican primaries, several courageous moderate Republicans defeated far-right elected officials.

One of the major issues that helped the moderates was school funding.

Kansans are not ready to abandon public schools for the sake of Governor Brownback’s tax cuts.

People of Kansas: Tomorrow is your chance to vote for legislators who support your community’s public schools!

Vote for the candidate who pledges to oppose Governor Brownback’s tax cuts. Vote for your public schools.

Kansas has become a textbook case of conservative incoherence. Conservatives are supposed to “conserve,” but in Kansas and elsewhere they are destroying traditional institutions. Governor Sam Brownback has cut taxes to stimulate business and cut school budgets. Public schools that were once the pride of their community are struggling to stay afloat. You can be sure that in the wings are charter entrepreneurs and peddlers of vouchers.

The battle is being waged in affluent suburbs, which value their public schools yet elect conservative legislators who slash their budgets. The election this fall will see challenges to many of those legislators.

Kansans are faced with a stark choice: good public schools or lower taxes.

Small-government Republican conservatives face a political backlash in Kansas because of the state’s budget problems and battles over education funding, and the epicenter is in sprawling Kansas City suburbs where residents have cherished public schools for decades.

But the Democrats and GOP moderates hoping to lessen the grip Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s allies have on the Legislature must contend with a political paradox in Johnson County, home to those affluent suburbs. Its voters regularly approve bonds and property tax increases for schools while electing conservative legislators who’ve backed the governor’s experiment in slashing state income taxes.

More than two dozen conservative Republican legislators face challengers in Tuesday’s primary, including 11 in Johnson County, the state’s most populous. Challengers there have made education funding a key issue.

“You could rely on one thing, and that was public education,” said Gretchen Gradinger, a lawyer and Johnson County native who moved back from Missouri two years ago so her young son could attend the public schools she knew growing up. “For 60 years, you could rely on one thing.”

Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since the Republican-dominated Legislature heeded Brownback’s call in 2012 and 2013 to cut personal income taxes as an economic stimulus. He won a tough re-election race in 2014, but his popularity has waned with the state’s ongoing budget woes.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court could rule by the end of the year in an education funding lawsuit on whether legislators provide enough money to schools to fulfill a duty under the state constitution to finance a suitable education for every child. The State Board of Education is recommending phasing in an $893 million increase in aid over two years.

Under court order, the Kansas Legislature enacted a funding bill for the schools. The state’s highest court threaten to shut down the schools entirely if the legislature didn’t take action. Despite grumbling about the “activist” court and threats to pass legislation to rein it in, the legislature did the right thing and actually allocated money to the public schools. Parents might wake up if the schools closed, and they would know who was to blame: not the court, but the legislators.

Governor Sam Brownback has consistently underfunded the public schools.

Kansas needs parents and educators to run for the legislature to make sure it meets one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the state: the education of its children.

Parents in Kansas are disgusted with Governor Sam Brownback’s massive budget cuts. The cuts were inevitable after Brownback and the legislature enacted the biggest tax cuts in the state’s history in 2012 and 2013. They must have been following the Reagan playbook of trickle-down economics, but it didn’t work. The State Supreme Court ordered the legislature to enact an equitable and adequate plan to finance the public schools.

And now parents are gearing up to fight for their public schools.

The struggle over school funding in Kansas reached a new crisis point when the State Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Republican-dominated Legislature had not abided by its constitutional mandate to finance public schools equitably, especially poorer districts with less property wealth. The court, in an effort to force legislative action, reiterated a deadline that gave the state until June 30 to fix the problem or face a school shutdown.

The ruling exacerbated tensions over budgets enacted by Mr. Brownback and the Legislature that education officials say have led school districts to eliminate programs, lay off staff members or even shorten the school week….

Of even greater concern to many parents is a sense, they say, that the state leadership does not support the very concept of public education.

“People are saying, ‘This is not the Kansas I know,’ and ‘This is not the Republican Party I know,’” said Judith Deedy, who helped start the group Game On for Kansas Schools.

As in other states, the effect of reduced funding varies from one district to another. In poorer districts like Kansas City and Wichita, students are crammed into deteriorating buildings with bloated class sizes. One district in southeast Kansas, facing a budget shortfall, recently pared its school week to four days.

Parents who are Republicans feel betrayed by Governor Brownback and some plan to run against their incumbent representatives.

Educators are struggling to meet the needs of their students:


In Kansas City, school officials say they have been shortchanged by tens of millions of dollars over the past five years because the Legislature has not taken into account their needs when financing poorer districts like theirs. Ninety percent of the students in the Kansas City school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 40 percent are nonnative English speakers.

Cynthia Lane, the superintendent of schools in the Kansas City district, said preparations were underway in case schools are shut down, as the Supreme Court has threatened. Schools are usually busy during the summer months, with administrators and members of staff preparing for the upcoming academic year, she said. The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 15.

“If we can’t pay bills, how do we keep our utilities on, how do we keep our security system on?” she said. “Folks are really frustrated and embarrassed that Kansas is the butt of jokes across the nation. He continues to say things are fine, when they are not fine.”

The Wichita School Board voted on May 18 to eliminate more than 100 jobs and to close an alternative high school, as part of efforts to trim about $18 million from the district’s budget.

At that meeting, Mike Rodee, the vice president of the board, blamed state officials for forcing budget cuts. “We need to look at all the people that are doing it to us,” he said at the school board meeting. “Our legislators, our government, our governor — we are the ones who are fighting to keep the schools alive, and they are fighting to close them.”

Some school principals say they are resigned to making do with what money they have. At Welborn Elementary School in Kansas City, classes are held in two aging buildings and students dash back and forth during the day. Teachers keep a watchful eye on them as they cross an active parking lot between the buildings.

“I don’t need much,” said Jennifer Malone, the principal, one recent afternoon. “I just want a building.”

Governor Brownback has called a special session of the legislature to enact a new funding formula. Just hope that he doesn’t fund the schools by cutting the universities or other public services.