Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2012

Analysis: Education funding debate hits key issues

October 14, 2012


TOPEKA — Kansas Democrats hope to avoid another election-year wipeout by making funding for public schools a major issue in legislative races, and their move highlights key differences between them and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Democrats are criticizing Brownback and his conservative allies over massive income tax cuts enacted this year, suggesting they’ll create big budget problems. They contend the tax cuts will force the state to dramatically reduce aid to public schools and that Brownback has shown he’s willing to slash education funding.

Brownback and House Appropriations Committee Marc Rhoades sought to undercut the criticism in separate news conferences by pointing to cuts in education funding under Brownback’s Democratic predecessor, Mark Parkinson.

The back-and-forth showed that Democrats see increased spending on public schools as a much higher priority than tax cuts, while Brownback and his allies place the biggest premium on reducing income taxes to stimulate the economy. Also, the debate showed that Democrats view money as the biggest concern in education, while Brownback and his allies see other policy issues as important.

“For a lot of years, we’ve been high-centered on finances,” said Rhoades, a conservative Newton Republican. “I’d like to add to the conversation.”

Democrats hope a debate over education funding inoculates them against almost-certain mailings and advertising by conservative groups tying them to President Barack Obama and the federal health care law he championed. The same tactic resulted in big GOP gains in 2010 and fueled a purge of moderate Senate incumbents in this year’s Republican primaries.

Brownback’s news conference last week was an attempt to counter Democrats’ suggestions that he’s anti-education.

In 2011, he pushed legislators to reduce the state’s base aid to schools by 5.9 percent to help close a budget shortfall. But his staff handed out a data sheet and set up a big poster-board chart showing the overall decline was bigger under Parkinson in the wake of the Great Recession and that the state has committed more total dollars to schools since he took office.

The state will spend $3.2 billion under its current budget on aid to public schools — not quite as much as it did during the 2008-2009 school year but more than it has since then. Base aid per student is still nearly 13 percent lower than in 2008-09 because the state had to compensate for a loss of federal stimulus funds and shifted resources into teacher pensions and capital improvements.

The Kansas Democratic Party declared in recent mailings in legislative races that, “nothing is more important than good public schools,” and Democratic leaders see restoring education funding to pre-2009 levels as a compelling need. With the economy recovering, tax cuts should be considered when schools are properly funded, they argue.

“We would have restored the cuts to public schools first before you pass this massive income tax cut,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said during a news conference following up on Brownback’s event.

Brownback and his allies took another path this year. The state will cut individual income tax rates for 2013 and exempt the owners of 191,000 businesses from income taxes. The final measure was more aggressive than Brownback proposed, but he signed it, even in the face of projections from legislative researchers that it would lead to collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion over the next six years.

The governor has acknowledged the likelihood of budget problems over the next two years, but he and other conservatives believe the legislative researchers’ projections are too pessimistic.

Conservatives also dispute the idea that pushing aggressively for tax cuts means they’re ignoring schools’ needs. They argue that the growth resulting from tax cuts will boost state and local revenues.

“I can’t emphasize this enough: Growth is the key to education funding,” Brownback said during his news conference.

Brownback also has attempted to shift the debate from a focus on raw dollars to how effectively those dollars are spent by appointing a school efficiency task force dominated by certified public accountants. He contends the state needs to do a better job of making sure its aid finances classroom instruction.


George Lippencott 1 year, 6 months ago

How old are my textbooks? Don;t we have a policy on replacement? Are we following it?

How much more do we need for paper? Wife spent money for years for paper. Kind of like professionals in many lines of work who contribute to the organization bottom line for the common good of the employees. Is that stuff still deductible?

How do advanced/special classes contribute to better student performance? Certainly the few that take them will perform better on some things but how does that help the majority?


George Lippencott 1 year, 6 months ago

Exactly what does increased educational spending buy?? Better teachers? Better classroom environment? More teachers?


Tracy Rogers 1 year, 6 months ago

You say "administration, Legislature, and KPI" like they are different entities. They're all pretty much the same thing with the Kochs pulling the strings.


Centerville 1 year, 6 months ago

There's wealth, then there's currency. And then there is, sadly, public education.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 6 months ago

" That is nothing more than a scare tactic floated by those who are opposed to substantive reform of public education and don't want parents to know the truth about student achievement and school funding."

Mr. Trabert is apparently not above fighting perceived scare tactics with scare tactics of his own.

"Those" are very scary people.


lucky_guy 1 year, 6 months ago

Defunding schools would destroy rural Kansas. There are no parochial schools in Sumner County, for instance. Though I suppose that the Gov would consider it "growth" when he consolidates the schools in rural counties and someone starts a "religious" school to fill in the void.


Paul R Getto 1 year, 6 months ago

For some reason the "simple farmer from Parker" wants to destroy rural Kansas. Go figure.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 6 months ago

The sad irony is that rural Kansas will suffer disproportionately under this plan. Residents of Johnson County and Lawrence will ensure that their schools are funded through local means. Once the statewide spigot turns off for rural Kansas, they will really be hurting.

Irony, or maybe comeuppance?


lucky_guy 1 year, 6 months ago

What I want to know is what is the predetermined answer?. The Gov doesn't have any educators on the efficiency committee so he wants no dissension in the ranks. The answer will be whatever the answer was 6 months ago when the outcome was arrived at. Probably school consolidation, elimination of the state school board and consolidation into either county or regional school districts. Then a block grant to each district that the state can cut or postpone as need arises to make the Gov look better. Is that the answer? We all know that there is no creative thought going on in the committee. You have stated yourself that you don't believe that money has anything to do with acheivement, so you are more than willing to cut more from schools. I am just wanting to get this over with.


Dave Trabert 1 year, 6 months ago

That's right up there with 'you didn't build it...the government built your company.'

Government merely determines the legal tender. government might print the money but Individuals and employers really make it.


jafs 1 year, 6 months ago

You know, the funny thing about money is that it actually all comes from the government in the first place.

So, folks that talk about the government having no money of their own kind of get it backwards.

First, the government prints money, without which none of us would have any at all, then it gets distributed and circulated into the economy in a variety of ways, and then the government takes some of it back.


question4u 1 year, 6 months ago

Cutting funding has no effect on quality of education, just like cutting funding for the military has no effect on national security. No...wait, it's just like cutting calorie intake has no effect on weight loss. No...wait, it's just like cutting oxygen to the brain has no effect on... No...wait, it's just like cutting supply has no effect on demand. No...that's not it. No...wait, it's just like cutting taxes has no effect on the economy. can't be that.

Well, education is an exception. You can cut funding to education all that you want and it won't have any effect. It's just common sense.

Time to order 10,000 Chia Pets. In Kansas people will buy anything.


Dave Trabert 1 year, 6 months ago

Frankly, that has always been the case in most parts of the state. Government has no money of its only has what it collects from taxpayers and redistributes. It doesn't matter who writes the last check; the local taxpayer sends money to state and local governments and that is what funds public schools.


Jackie Jackasserson 1 year, 6 months ago

Because eventually local communities will pay for all of thier educational needs.


Dave Trabert 1 year, 6 months ago

It's good to see it acknowledged that State aid has been rising as opposed to being cut back to 1990s levels as claimed by some. Here are some other pertinent facts.

  • Total taxpayer aid to public schools hit an all-time high in 2012 at $5.771 billion. See for data provided by KSDE. Total aid per-pupil was just $4 shy of the record, at $12,656.

  • State aid per-pupil was $6,983, of which base state aid was $3,780...KPERS was $ support was $230...and there was another $2,283 per-pupil in other aid, most of which is weightings. See for data provided by KSDE in an open records request.

  • Large increases in spending and the decline in 2010 had no effect on student achievement. Scores on independent national exams like NAEP and ACT have been essentially flat for many years. The only reason the ACT composite score declined by a tenth of a point in 2012 is that the demographic weighting of the scores changed; applying the 2012 weighting to actual scores for prior years shows that the composite score has been at 21.9 for several fact, it only declined in 2009 which perhaps ironically was when state aid peaked. See for details.

  • That last link is to the presentation on efficiency opportunities given to the K-12 Efficiency Task Force. Note the tremendous disparity between per-pupil spending at each enrollment level beginning on slide 33. The variance in Administrative spending, which is completely voluntary on the part of districts, is particularly noteworthy, with potential savings of $112 million based on actual spending levels of many districts.

It certainly takes a lot of money to operate schools but it's how the money is spent that matters - not how much.


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