But Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has energized me. He wrote to the New York Times in response to an unsavory editorial the newspaper published Oct. 13 regarding his cuts to Kansas education. Brownback claimed he has increased spending on education by $200 million since his election. He said studies indicate Kansas students are more career- and college-ready than New York students, and that teacher salaries have increased during his term.
The Ottawa school district now has had state aid cut by $3.5 million in the past year and Kansas ranked fourth in all states in cuts to education last year. So what is going on? According to John Beal of the Kansas Association of School Boards, school finance in Kansas, as a percentage of personal income, is at its lowest level in history and the governor is including supplemental payment to threatened teacher retirement funds (KPERS) in his $200 million, an outlay that has never been counted before as education funding. That figure for the Ottawa school district last year was $1.408 million, and another $1.85 million is budgeted for this year. If you apply that to more than 300 school districts, pretty soon you start talking about real money. The governor is playing with smoke and mirrors.
Yes, Kansas students might be more college-ready than New Yorkers. In Kansas, the regent universities must accept any Kansas high school graduate. They better be ready. Teacher salaries surely have increased. They seem to increase each year no matter whether there is an increase in state aid or not. They increase with increases in property taxes, cuts in programs and elimination of paraprofessionals in the classroom.
It is no surprise to me, but the editorial pages have been mostly quiet or disinterested in this matter of educational funding. And, of course, there is the matter of Kansas’ lack of participation (at the hands of Brownback) in the federal Affordable Care Act. What a mess we are in. We have another 25 months of Obama, but we soon go to the polls to consider our leadership in Kansas. Brownback must rediscover education and health care to deserve re-election.
But the problems are not solely in the governor’s office. It was reported Nov. 4 in the Lawrence Journal World that state Rep. Jerry Lund, R-Overland Park, put University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Grey-Little on notice, saying that KU and other universities should prepare for significant decreases in funding if the court orders the Legislature to increase funding to public schools. He suggested Grey-Little “talk to your friendly Supreme Court Justices.” This bullying tactic and the governor’s misleading letter to the New York Times are things to remember at election time.
While Kansans, along with Americans, slumber on.