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

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 everythin read more

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Less Health Care, More KPERS Delays, and Increased Student Debt

May 19, 2016 by

BrownbackLaughHow do you protect irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans?

You make the poor, children, public employees, and college students pay for them.

That’s what Governor Brownback has done with his latest move to balance a budget destroyed by his reckless tax cuts.

As state revenue continues to crater, the Legislature caved in to Brownback and refused to even talk about an “option 4” – restoring the income tax. Instead they punted to Brownback allowing him to decide what was important in Kansas. And what is important? Protecting his failed tax policy.

Most alarming to educators is Brownback’s $30 million cut to university funding. The bulk of the cut comes directly out of university budgets ($23 million) with another $7 million coming from the Board of Regents budget.

Making up for the cuts, universities will likely have to increase tuition rates. It’s not lost on those of us who have followed the budget debate this year that the legislature repealed a tuition increase cap they enacted just a year earlier specifically to allow bigger tuition hikes.

So, in order to protect a failed “march to zero” income tax policy, our students will either be priced out of a university education or saddled with additional debt.

Brownback also cut another $3 million from the Children’s Cabinet and delayed an additional $100 million in contributions to KPERS. $38 million was taken from KanCare – the state’s Medicaid program which serves the poor.

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that the Governor, in announcing the cuts, said, “The three main drivers of budget growth continue to be education, Medicaid and KPERS.” And so, this time around, he took money away from those three areas. He is also quick to assert that he has “protected” K-12 funding at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on K-12 funding equity and then take up adequacy.

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Oops! They Did It Again!

May 3, 2016 by

Yes, Governor Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have delivered another budget bill that has resulted in another credit downgrade for the State of Kansas.

In response to a budget bill that takes another $185 million out of funds earmarked for the Kansas Department of Transportation, credit rating service Moody’s have moved the outlook on Kansas highway revenue bonds from “stable” to “negative.” This the fourth credit downgrade Brownback has earned for the state.

Essentially Moody’s is saying that if you are thinking of buying Kansas highway revenue bonds, you might want to think twice because the state has made a habit of taking highway funds to fill holes in the state general fund.

The Governor and some legislators – Senator Forrest Knox, in particular – have been touting the small increase in revenues collected over estimates in April as proof that the “sun is shining in Kansas.” Yes, April revenues came in $2.6 million above estimates but one must not lose sight of the fact that the estimates have been lowered repeatedly since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.

It’s like this…If I estimate that my monthly paycheck will be $1000 and I actually get $900, I might lower the expectations for next month. Now I expect $900 and I get $850. Eventually I can lower my expectations to the point where my income might actually exceed my expectations. I’m still earning less than I need to pay my bills, but at least I’m making more than I thought I would.

And as for that $2.6 million, under the budget passed this weekend the Governor will need to come up with more than $100 million in sweeps and cuts. It’s really not time to celebrate.


Watch a video interview with KNEA Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy, Mark Desetti answering some of your questions about the state budget bill, KPERS, and the LLC tax holiday.

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