What 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.