Last night, Governor Brownback delivered his final State-of-the-State address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. And what a speech it was. It is roundly being attacked by his former allies, the most conservative Republican Legislators, with JR Claeys (R-Salina) actually tweeting, “The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus…Then put the bus in reverse…Then lit fire to the bus.” Wow.
Usually a final speech is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of one’s administration but this speech was short on accomplishments and long on “dreams.”
Among those accomplishments were the opening of the state’s longest hiking and biking trail, a reduction in adult obesity, the opening of the National Soccer Training Center, moving the American Royal from Missouri to Kansas, and a rising quail population. There were a few economic wins included in his list such as the opening of a new milk drying plant to serve the large dairy farms in southwest Kansas and our growing wind energy industry but overall, it did not read like a bragging list of major accomplishments.
The K-12 Education Proposal
The second part of the speech is what angered his one-time allies. Brownback announced that his budget would include $600 million in new K-12 education funding to be spread out over five years. The conservatives have been fighting the Supreme Court and arguing that money doesn’t matter in education. They have tried to say that the Court should be satisfied with just a few new dollars targeted specifically to at-risk students. They were certain they had an ally in Sam Brownback and are looking at his proposal as turning his back on his loyal followers (see JR Claey’s quote above).
On the surface, there is nothing alarming in the Governor’s education proposal. He would put $200.8 million in new education funding in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and an additional $100 million in each of FY 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. Most of the 2019 increase has already been passed as part of SB 19 in the 2017 session.
He then cites three expectations of the school system based on this new money. Specifically he wants by the 2022-23 school year:
- To reach a 95% statewide graduation rate,
- To attain a statewide post-secondary effectiveness rate of 75%, and
- To continue to move schools statewide toward the Kansans Can model for school redesign launched by the Kansas Department of Education.
As a means to achieve these three goals, the Governor sets the following five strategic objectives for Kansas school districts to meet by the 2022-2023 school year:
- Have the highest teacher pay average of our neighboring states, including having a higher teacher pay average than the State of Missouri by the 2018-2019 school year;
- Increase the number of school counselors and school psychologists in Kansas schools by 150.00 FTE positions each year;
- Have 50 schools participating in the Kansans Can school redesign project;
- Offer 15.0 credit hours of dual credit coursework to every Kansas high school student, at no cost to students (including tuition, fees or books), through a partnership between Kansas high schools and the state’s institutions of higher learning; and
- Offer every Kansas high school student, at no cost to the student, the choice of taking either the ACT college entrance exam or the Work Keys assessments (for attainment of the National Career Readiness Certificate) during his or her high school career.
In terms of the goals, it is hard to find something to argue with in this proposal.
What, of course, is up in the air is whether or not the Supreme Court will accept such a long phase in. We believe it is likely that they will allow the remedy to be phased in over time but five years might be too long. The last phased in remedy was in 2006 in response to the Montoy decision and the legislature failed – for a variety of reasons including the 2008-09 economic collapse – to fulfill the promises made at that time. Later, when the economy was in recovery and revenues were on the rebound, instead of going back to the phase in, the legislature, under the direction of Governor Brownback, gave all new revenue away in the disastrous tax cuts of 2012.
Now comes the interesting part. The Governor has proposed a dollar amount that is very likely to be supported by Democrats and Moderate Republicans, leaving the conservatives in the position of either taking that number or cutting the proposed funding for schools. It is not lost on anyone under the dome that the 2016 legislative elections were about taxes and school funding.
What happens to a dream deferred?
So asked Kansas native Langston Hughes in one of his most famous poems.
We bring this up because the third portion of the Governor’s speech was about dreams – dreams that we would argue have been deferred thanks to his own policies that devastated the revenue system for Kansas.
Brownback said, “A dream spoken sets up the architecture for the creative efforts of free men and women to build upon.” How true that is.
Then he went on to call out his dreams – and perhaps the dreams of many Kansans. These are his dreams quoted from his speech:
“My dream for Kansas is to be the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”
“I dream that education in the state is tailored to each student’s needs and desires.”
“I dream of leading the country in developing new treatments to heal old maladies using your own adult stem cells.”
“I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America.”
“Dream with me of a growing and diversifying Air Capitol of the World.”
“I dream that Kansas will continue to be and grow as a major financial services hub.”
“Dream with me of feeding the world.”
“I dream of reconciliation between the races.”
“I dream of a culture of life.”
This is the speech that he could have and should have given in his 2011 State-of-the-State address. Today these are simply dreams deferred while he pressed an agenda of massive tax cuts that simply starved the state’s ability to pursue those dreams.
It is what the 2018 Kansas Legislature does and what happens in the 2018 Kansas elections that will determine if dreams can be pursued or if, in the words of Langston Hughes, “they dry up like a raisin in the sun.”
To view a video reaction to the Governor’s speech by Heidi Holiday of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Sarah LaFrenz of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas NEA Governmental Relations Director Mark Desetti, click here.