The Art of Denial – Governor Brownback Delivers State of the State

Jan 11, 2017 by

Article Highlights- Click the Arrow to the Right

  • Governor gives State of the State address and promises that KS is “leading the planet” by many measures of success.
  • Governor promises to hold to his failed tax reform policies.
  • Governor’s education policies outline a litany “reforms” that have failed elsewhere promising they will work in KS: merit pay, uncertified teachers, and more tax credits and vouchers for unaccountable private and for-profit schools.
  • Article includes links to full text of Governor’s address along with response by Senator Anthony Hensley.
  • Governor’s budget as outlined by Budget Director Shawn Sullivan includes more of the same, robbing from highway funds, sell-off of Children’s Initiative Fund, and sin taxes.
Brownback State of the State

Brownback State of the State- McClatchy

 

Where to begin…

Governor Sam Brownback gave his annual State-of-the-State address last night and what a work of art that was.

He started off by reminding all of us of how great things are in Kansas now that his 2012 tax plan has taken full effect. He says we have created thousands of jobs, quality of life is better than ever, and, well, the sun is shining in Kansas. It’s the mantra he and his staff and allies have been chanting repeatedly as revenue estimates continue to collapse and every state service is decimated by budget cuts or highway robbery.

This sunshine, he says, is why the legislature must not back off one bit on his tax plans. Not even on the patently unfair and irresponsible elimination of all income taxes on more than 330,000 businesses in Kansas. No, he told us, those tax breaks are creating jobs; jobs that only he apparently can see.

Next, he launched into his great joy at the election of Donald Trump and his delight at the strong possibility of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). It’s going away, he proclaimed, and so this is the wrong time to expand Medicaid. Yes, Governor Brownback continues to refuse to take millions of dollars offered by the federal government – dollars that Kansans are sending to the federal government in taxes – and provide a modicum of health care security for the working poor of our state.

He had plenty to say about education too.

Just as he proposed in 2012 that Kansas adopt Arthur Laffer’s discredited trickle down economic tax theory, he now has a set of discredited education “reforms” he wants the legislature to enact.

In this odd Brownback world, ideas that have been tried repeatedly elsewhere and found to be failures, are sure to work if implemented in Kansas. Trickle down economics for example. Now he wants to try school grading systems, merit pay, untrained teachers in rural schools, and more money to unaccountable private schools. The thing we really need people to understand is that Kansas schools have been great precisely because Kansas has REFUSED to adopt these failed “reforms.”

Well, Governor Brownback has had his chance. He has had six years to enact good policy. In that time he has gutted the state budget, decimated state services, robbed our highways of needed funds, and boosted our sales tax such that Kansans pay the second highest food sales tax in the nation. He eliminated a constitutional, effective school finance system for a block grant system that harmed every district budget. But now he says he wants to lead on education.

Too late, Governor Brownback. The people of Kansas have seen what his policies have accomplished and they want no more of them. That’s why they tossed so many of his allies out of the legislature in August and November. It’s time for Brownback to step aside and leave the work to the new legislature; the legislature that was elected specifically to reverse the damage Brownback has done.

Read the full text of Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address by CLICKING HERE.

Senator Anthony Hensley’s Response to Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address follows:

Budget Director Briefs Committees on Brownback’s Budget

Budget Director Shawn Sullivan appeared before several committees today to share the details of the Governor’s budget proposal.

In a nutshell: more of the same.

The proposal shifts money around, raises a tiny bit of new revenue, steals more out of the highway fund, and proposes selling off future tobacco settlement payments for some short term cash.

It also appears the Governor would like to make a 4th attempt to securitize the Children’s Initiative Fund.  Read Kansas Action for Children’s response to this latest attack on our youngest Kansans by CLICKING HERE.

He raises something less than $200 million in 2018 and 2019 by

  • Taxing passive income such as rents and royalties,
  • Freezing the bottom income tax bracket at 2.7% (scheduled to drop to 2.6%),
  • Increasing a business filing fee from $40 to $200,
  • Increasing the cigarette tax by $1.00,
  • Increasing the tobacco products tax from 10% to 20%, and
  • Increasing the liquor enforcement tax from 8% to 16%.

The most surprising part of his education budget proposals is to save money by consolidating all school districts into one state-wide health insurance plan. He says this was a recommendation from the Alvarez and Marsal Efficiency Study from last year. It was, but A&M was clear that this should not be done until there was a thorough examination of the implications for districts and employees.

There is a study being conducted, as we speak, by the Division of the Legislative Post Audit to do just that. That study is due in March. It seems the Governor is jumping the gun on this one!

None of these proposals are done deals. The presentation has not been met with particular enthusiasm in a legislature tired of budget gimmicks and focused on how to solve the long term mess brought about by the Governor’s tax policy.

We’ll keep you posted on how all of this proceeds. It will all take some time.

K-12 Budget Committee Hears from Dale Dennis

Guru Emeritus of School Finance, Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis briefed the K-12 Education Budget Committee on the reality of school funding in Kansas – past history and present experience.

True to his word in convening his committee, Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) is providing the best resources to educate his committee members on the challenge of school finance before launching into the design of our next system.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Nov 9, 2016 by

protected-area-network-knowledge-management-framework-needs-assessment-and-assets-inventory-58-638Well, some may have a Dickensian view of the general election results – with Hillary Clinton widely expected to win, it was certainly a shock to see that she did not. For many Americans, this election on the national level will likely be their “worst of times.”

But at KNEA, we are focusing on what the 2016 election means for public education. And here in Kansas, our legislative races look more like the best of times. At least for those of us who advocate for children, schools, and teachers.

In the House of Representatives, the Democrats finished the job that Moderates began in the August primaries. The Democratic caucus has gone from 28 to 40 members. The minority party is now a third of the Kansas House. For Democrats, this means more members on every committee and a bigger voice in floor debates.

Combined with moderate Republican victories, this creates a pro-public education block of as many as 75 votes. For a long time we’ve been counting noses wondering how to get to 63 and often we came up on the losing side. This new coalition gives us hope that things will turn around dramatically in the House.

In the Senate, Democrats only gained one seat but combined with the many moderate Republican victories, there is now a path to 21 votes – a path that hasn’t been there in four years.

The people of Kansas, regardless of party affiliation have let it be known that they are done with the Brownback “experiment” and want to go in a new direction. That direction includes funding our schools and taking care of our children and families.

Kansans also rejected the governor’s attempt to politicize our Supreme Court. While the governor and his allies tried to paint the retention election as a matter of the death penalty and abortion, Kansans know it was really about tossing justices who have consistently ruled in favor of public schools. Kansans saw through the vicious mail and television campaign and voted to retain all five justices.

This vote ensures that our courts will stay free of political and ideological tampering. Kansas will continue to benefit from a Supreme Court that rises above politics and holds the state true to the constitution.  Justice should never be for sale.

We will be examining the results of this election and will be providing a more detailed analysis once we’ve had the chance to really dig deep. As for the impact of the national election, NEA will be doing the same. We will pass on their analysis to our members as it becomes available.

In the meantime, our members and their allies – administrators, school board members, and parents – deserve a well-earned rest. All that time making calls, knocking on doors, and turning out voters has paid off for our schools. All of you did a great job taking political action to heart and fighting for our future. Toast yourselves, pat yourselves on the back, eat a decadent dessert. You’ve earned it!

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Too little, too late.

Sep 2, 2016 by

BrownbackWhat a surprise. Governor Brownback has suddenly awakened to the fact that his legislative allies are being thrown out of the legislature by angry voters. And Brownback knows what we all know – the leading issues for Kansas voters are the slow demise of Kansas’ quality public education system, the patently unfair Brownback tax system that benefits the wealthiest Kansans at the expense of middle and lower income residents, and the general collapse of the state’s budget that is damaging our highways, public safety and the social service safety net.

Now he’s in a panic that the voters are going to throw out more of his allies and that the new legislature will work to reverse the anti-education, anti-government agenda he has promoted for the past six years.

Make no mistake, this is a political move. A move intended to fool the public into thinking that he cares. No, he doesn’t care. He wants to continue the path toward the elimination of public services including public education.

The Governor says he wants to lead on school funding. Well, he had his chance.

For the past six years, when he could have been a leader, he has rejected the voices of educators. He has ignored school board members, school administrators, and teachers. He put together education study groups that he packed with anti-public education zealots. He and his legislative allies have taken all of their input from the anti-government, Koch funded folks who have bankrolled their campaigns.

The Governor and his hand-picked education “advisors” have deliberately refused to listen to teachers in particular. The Governor’s education policies have been written by “advisors” that included Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute and Mike O’Neal of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Leading his advisory groups have been anti-government zealot Sam Williams and the extreme right member of the State Board of Education, Ken Willard.

When teachers asked to appear before these committees they were told that there was no time for teachers. If teachers had something to say, we were told, they could write a letter or email the committee members.

So here is what we need to remember about Brownback’s sudden interest in public input. Don’t expect it to change anything. He will still take his orders from the same anti-public education think tanks and Koch-funded organizations. He will take his legislative ideas from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This effort is a falsehood. As, Kansans are fond of saying, “Take a look at the man behind the curtain.”

We were among those receiving a letter from Brownback’s office letting us know how to provide input in the development of a new school finance formula. We were happy the Governor finally decided that teachers might have some ideas (it’s taken him six years to figure this out). Sadly we note that he has no plans to provide for hearings and public forums. Instead we are asked to submit our ideas via email.

And we should note that while a number of Kansas school districts, KASB, USA/Kansas, the Kansas PTA, and a number for other education organizations were asked to participate, the invite was also extended to some of the most virulently anti-public education organizations in the country including the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, and the Friedman Foundation. All of those organizations work primarily to strip money away from public education and send it to unaccredited and religious schools in the form of vouchers and tuition tax credits or scholarships.

The reality of the Governor’s sudden interest in showing some “leadership” on education is the fact that the public has soundly rejected all of the Governor’s ideas up to this point. On August 2, Kansas voters ousted many of the Republican legislators who have blindly followed Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, and Sam Brownback in enacting their policies. Most observers believe that more of his allies will lose their bids for re-election in November.

We’re ready to help make a responsible and constitutional school finance formula a reality. But we believe the leadership in creating such a formula will come not from the Governor’s office but rather from a new, more responsible legislature sent to Topeka by Kansas voters who have tired of the Governor’s reckless policy agenda.

At KNEA we will continue to seek out, elect, and work with legislators who will put Kansas and Kansans ahead of an extreme anti-government ideology; who will pull Kansas back from the edge of the fiscal cliff and once again provide for quality state services that support the high quality of life we have come to expect.

In the meantime, we do encourage you to let the Governor know your thoughts. We hope you will take advantage of this to give the Governor a piece of you mind. You don’t have to sketch out the details of a new school finance formula. We suggest that you simply suggest ways in which a new legislature might provide for an adequate and equitable school finance formula that meets the needs of our students.

Here are a few of ideas you might want him to consider:

  • Kansas can’t provide adequate funding when tax revenues continue to decline. It’s time to roll back the irresponsible tax cuts that have benefited the wealthy and been punishing to middle and low income Kansans. Put business back on the tax rolls, stop the “glide path to zero income tax,” and get our state budget back to stability.
  • Elevate the advice of education practitioners including classroom teachers and parents with children in public schools over that of anti-government organizations like KPI and the KCC.
  • Increase funding to the levels promised by the legislature in 2005-06. Reinstate the prior school finance formula and focus only on modifying it with input from educators – school board members, school administrators, and classroom teachers. The plan put forward by KASB and USA/KS is an excellent starting point.
  • Put money directly into increasing the salaries and benefits of all teachers. Not just a few – ALL. College graduates leave Kansas public universities with undergraduate debt in excess of $23,000 and start teaching with salaries as low as $27,000. All teachers need to be better paid. Current research shows that the gap between teacher earnings and the earnings of others with the same required level of education is widening. Enhancing the salaries and benefits of all teachers will go a long way to making teaching an attractive career option.
  • Any changes to the school finance formula must allow it to respond to changing needs (increases in enrollment, student needs such as at-risk and bilingual, and shifts in local property tax valuations), and must be adjusted annually for inflationary increases and increased expectations.
  • Repeal statutes that strip money away from our public schools and send it to private schools including unaccredited schools. Start by repealing the tuition tax credit program and return that $12 million to our public schools.
  • Demand that all legislators immediately stop bad mouthing teachers and their union. This rhetoric and the continual attacks on teachers only serve to discourage young people from becoming teachers and encourage those now teaching to retire as soon as possible or just quit.

These are just a few ideas. We know that teachers have plenty more. So send those ideas in to the Governor at StudentsFirst@ks.gov.

And while you’re at it, check out the KNEA list of education friendly candidates for the Kansas House and Senate. Volunteer for those candidates and vote for those candidates. Discuss the importance of a pro-public education legislature with your friends and neighbors. And on November 8, let’s finish the job we started on August 2.

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A Great Day for Kansas!

Aug 3, 2016 by

Kansas-Governor-Sam-Brownback-800x430Yesterday in the Kansas primary elections supporters of the Brownback experiment were removed from office. Six incumbent Brownback allies in the Kansas Senate lost their bids for reelection to moderate Republican challengers. Tom Arpke, Terry Bruce, Forrest Knox, Jeff Melcher, Larry Powell, and Greg Smith were all ousted. In addition, two more Brownback allies who were vying for open Senate seats – Virgil Peck wanting to replace Jeff King and Larry Salmans hoping to replace Mitch Holmes – found themselves on the losing end of their challenge with moderate Republicans winning both primaries. Two moderate incumbents who were being challenged by Brownback conservatives – Vicki Schmidt and Carolyn McGinn – both won reelection.

Over in the House, eight Brownback allies lost their bids for reelection. Craig McPherson, Brett Hildabrand, Rob Bruchman, Jerry Lunn, Charles Macheers, Connie O’Brien, Will Carpenter, and Kasha Kelly all went down in defeat. Conservative John Faber lost his comeback attempt out west. Open seats formerly held by Brownback conservatives (Marc Kahrs and Kevin Jones) were won by moderates Roger Elliot and Brenda Dietirch. Moderate incumbents facing conservative challengers – Susie Swanson, Steven Becker, and Greg Lewis – all won their races.

All these moderate Republicans ran on a message of tax fairness and real support for public schools.

Winning from Border to Border

It was very clear that the public was behind the moderate comeback. Over in Johnson County where two incumbent senators and six incumbent house members were defeated by moderates, KNEA members worked like never before. And the teachers were bolstered by an unprecedented level of public support. Kansas Families for Education, Game On for Kansas Schools, and Stand Up Blue Valley – citizens groups formed by angry and frustrated parents – grew in strength and resolve. It was teachers, parents, and concerned citizens who chose to engage in politics and who led the battle on behalf of common sense candidates.

But the turning out of conservatives was not just a Johnson County issue. Statewide voters have had enough of the Brownback experiment.  An experiment that has bankrupted the state leaving our schools, highways, public safety efforts, and social services in jeopardy. It happened in southeast Kansas with the defeat of Virgil Peck and Forrest Knox; it happened in central Kansas with the defeat of Terry Bruce and Tom Arpke; it happened in southern Kansas with defeat of Kasha Kelley; it happened in western Kansas with the defeat of Larry Powell. This is a statewide repudiation of the path Brownback and his allies have set upon Kansas.  Let us not forget that we can send another message to his remaining allies in November. 

Cranking Up the Spin Machines

Brownback’s allies are already putting out their spin, trying to make people believe that the election results have nothing to do with his “road map” for Kansas. You will find their spin in an article in the Wall Street Journal (not known as the “liberal media”). Brownback’s Spokeswoman Eileen Hawley and KPI’s Dave Trabert tried to blame other trends or other issues:

“Kansas is not immune from the widespread anti-incumbency sentiment we have seen across the nation this election season.” Eileen Hawley, Brownback Spokeswoman

From the Wall Street Journal: “It’s not a repudiation of either side but of the legislature in general for not dealing with the core issue,” Mr. Trabert said reducing the cost of state government by 6% to 7% would enable the state to keep its lower taxes and balance the budget going forward.

None of the victorious Republican moderates ever campaigned on the desire to cut state services any more. None of them campaigned on the promise of continuing Brownback’s experiment. They campaigned on returning Kansas to a common sense center; a state with a fair tax system that provides the necessary revenue to maintain the high quality of life for which Kansas is known.

Going Forward

Today is day to savor these victories. We all woke up with a renewed sense of hope for our state. But this is not over. The Governor still holds a veto pen with which to threaten these new legislators. There is still a general election during which the forces that brought us Brownback – the Kansas Chamber, KPI, Americans for Prosperity – will unleash their fury on Democrats, hoping to stop any further losses in their anti-government conservative caucus.

We savor today and we gear up for tomorrow. We must carry our efforts forward to November to protect our Democrats. We must seek to replace more of the Brownback allies now with Democrats. We helped the moderate Republicans defeat Brownback conservatives in August. Let’s help the Democrats defeat some more of them in November.

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Governor to Call for Special Session!

Jun 7, 2016 by

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Tell your representatives to support equitable and adequate funding according to the Constitution of Kansas.

Topeka- Governor Brownback has announced that he will call a special session of the legislature sometime this month. While he announced that “I will do everything I can to keep this session focused on education,” he also used his announcement to again pass the buck and blame the Court for the legislature’s failure.

“After discussion with Legislative Leadership, I have decided to call a special session to keep Kansas schools open, despite the Court’s threat to close them. It is distressing that the Kansas Supreme Court has put the schools and legislature of Kansas in this position over less than 1 percent of school funding.

Let’s start by making two things clear. First, we are not, as the Governor and his allies continue to say, talking about 1% of school funding. At issue is equity in the LOB which accounts for about 25% of school funding. This is not a minor issue and should not be characterized as such. 

Secondly, the Court has not threatened to close schools. The Court simply did its job in hearing and deciding upon a constitutional question brought to it by citizens. Courts do not go out seeking things upon which to rule. They do not act unless citizens bring an issue before them. That’s exactly what happened in this case and to imply that the Court somehow actively sought a school finance case is political spin at its finest and most cynical.

The reality is that a legislative majority, blindly following Governor Brownback in enacting reckless and unfair tax policy, has created a situation where the state has given away its ability to fund vital state services including education. In reacting to the predictable results of their own policy, the Governor and his legislative allies repealed a constitutionally sound school finance system and replaced it with an inequitable block grant scheme. The Court has directed the legislature to resolve the equity issue by June 30. If not, there will be no option but to prohibit the distribution of state funds in an unconstitutional school finance system. 

The question of whether or not schools will open rests not on the Court but on the Legislature’s actions. It is the responsibility of the Legislature under the Constitution of the State of Kansas to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” 

The Legislature has an obligation to ensure that every student receives a quality education regardless of zip code. Since schools are funded partly through a “local option budget,” it is incumbent upon the legislature to ensure that every community is able to provide LOB funding with similar tax effort. The Court found that the Legislature, in repealing the constitutionally sound school finance system and replacing it with block grants, made the LOB inequitable. This is the issue before the legislature. It is generally believed that it would cost the state approximately $40 million to solve the issue. 

Unfortunately, thanks to the failed tax policy of Governor Brownback and his legislative allies, the state has repeatedly come up short of expectations in revenue collection. In May alone, state revenue collections were nearly $76 million below expectations. Brownback’s “trickle-down” tax policy has resulted in a collapse in state revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, the highway program, KPERS, early childhood programs, services to those with disabilities, K-12 and higher education have suffered in attempts to balance the state budget.

During this special legislative session, lawmakers must focus with laser-sharp intensity on one issue and one alone – restoring equity to the LOB. Going forward, in order to restore fiscal stability to the state and to provide for all the services upon which Kansas citizens depend, future legislatures must look to adopting tax policy that is fair to all and provides the revenue necessary to serve the people.

Highlights:

-Equity LOB accounts for 25% of school funding.

-The Supreme Court did its job under the Constitution.

-Whether or not schools open is dependent upon action by the Legislature.

-The Legislature should focus squarely on funding during the special session.

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