Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hard times for Kansas and its schools as economic ‘experiment’ creates gaping budget hole

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback listens to kindergarten students discuss Jayhawks during class Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at Roesland Elementary School in Roeland Park, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Milburn)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback listens to kindergarten students discuss Jayhawks during class Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at Roesland Elementary School in Roeland Park, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Milburn)

November 23, 2016


— In February 2015, three years into the supply-side economics experiment that would upend a once steady Midwestern economy, a hole appeared in Kansas’ finances.

To fill it, Gov. Sam Brownback took $45 million in public education funding. By April of this year, with the hole at $290 million, Brownback took highway money to plug it. A month later, state money for Medicaid coverage went into the hole, but the gap continued to grow.

Today, the state’s budget hole is $345 million and threatens the foundation of this state, which was supposed to be the setting for a grand economic expansion but now more closely resembles a battleground, with accusations flying over how to get the state’s finances in order.

The yawning deficits were caused by huge tax cuts, championed by Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature, that were supposed to set the economy roaring. They didn’t.

The budget shortfalls have been felt across the state, particularly by public schools, and have embroiled the Kansas Supreme Court along with state lawmakers and the governor.

Through it all, Brownback has repeatedly pledged his faith in the free market.

“We’re going to continue to grow the economy,” Brownback has said in response to questions about each new revenue shortfall.

His opponents in the Legislature say Brownback’s mantra has failed the state and carries a stern lesson in theory versus reality to other states contemplating the same free-market ideas.

“It’s estimate and pray on the income taxes,” said state Sen. Laura Kelly, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “Even with significant changes, we won’t see personal income receipts (increase) until 2019.”

An ideological war over the way Kansas collects and spends money has erupted in the capital of Topeka and spilled into every corner of the state. After five years of an economic crusade that has left its originator, Brownback, as the least popular governor in the nation, Kansas has been forced to use the settlement from a national tobacco lawsuit to cover the hole in its general fund budget — money that was supposed to go to an early childhood education endowment.

It was a risk Brownback ran when he overhauled the state budget based on an interpretation of fiscal conservatism that dramatically cut personal income taxes.

The state would thrive, he pledged, because the tax cuts would help keep businesses and smart, young Kansans in the state, not fleeing “to Houston, or Dallas, or Chicago or somewhere else.”

“It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business,” Brownback wrote in 2012. “It will leave more than a billion dollars in the hands of Kansans. An expanding economy and growing population will directly benefit our schools and local governments.”

It hasn’t worked out that way.

Revenue from income tax collections plummeted 22 percent. A separate repeal of taxes on partnerships and limited liability companies meant the surrender of 30 percent of state revenue.

A projection issued Nov. 11 puts Kansas in a bind next fiscal year, when state revenue estimators project receipts to amount to $5.5 billion, down 7.4 percent from this year’s estimate.

Unwilling to scale back the income tax cuts, the state did increase the sales tax. Now Kansas has the second-highest sales tax in the nation, and such reliance on sales taxes has saddled the state with additional problems: Deflation is dropping the prices of goods and the taxes the state collects on them.

Tired of the bleating horn of bad news, in September Brownback silenced a quarterly economic evaluation of the state that counted employment, unemployment, personal income and energy production, and consistently illustrated the state’s plunging revenues. He had done so before, in August 2015, when he ordered a halt to a semiannual economic report.

“A lot of people were confused” by the reports, said Nicole Randall, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Brownback’s ultraconservative allies in the Legislature paid the price for their loyalty in the August primaries — when moderate Republicans won while running against Brownback and for increases in school funding — and again on election day, when Democrats picked up 12 seats in the House.

“It’s been disastrous,” said Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at the University of Kansas. “Brownback has said he will work with (new, moderate) legislators, but I don’t know if anyone believes him.”

The budget battles have also brought in the state Supreme Court. In 2014 the court ruled that disparities in public funding of education violated the state constitution and ordered a lower court to evaluate how much the state should invest in public schools.

Conservative groups supporting Brownback responded by pushing five Supreme Court justices into brutal, expensive retention races to keep their seats. The targeted justices were retained by voters and are expected to rule on the adequacy and fairness of the public education system in a landmark case, Gannon v. Kansas, filed by four of the state’s poorest school districts.

Should the Supreme Court rule against the state and the adequacy of its $6 billion yearly expenditures on education, it will force Kansas to pay $500 million or more for school upgrades across the state, including in economically depressed areas.

Places like Columbus.

Here in the state’s southeast corner, the poorest area in Kansas, coal mines died and gave way to paper mills, which shuttered as American business went paperless. Today, nearly 30 percent of families with children in the region receive food stamps. In Pittsburg, the largest city in the area, with about 20,000 residents, the downtown is pocked by shuttered storefronts.

In Columbus, population 3,300, clean, manicured lawns front one-story ranch houses built when the area was still prosperous, or at least on its feet. Red-and-yellow flags of Pittsburg State University, located in the nearby town, dot the one-street downtown. Greenery abounds.

“We’re a little bit — what’s the word I want to use — I’m a little bit backwoods. We’re a little rough around the edges,” said Steve Jameson in his seat in the principal’s office at Columbus’ Park Elementary. “We’re hard workers, and it’s high poverty. Sometimes, in poverty, you have that sense of helplessness.”

Jameson believes wholeheartedly in the importance of pre-K education, especially for the summer before kindergarten. His pre-K funding is frozen at 2013 levels because of the cuts, meaning he can enroll 30 children in summer pre-K. He has a waiting list every year.

He has been told that next year summer’s pre-K program will be cut. Jameson knows what to expect next fall.

It means kindergarteners from at-risk backgrounds never before introduced to a school environment, or children with behavioral issues that have not yet been modified in a classroom setting — all of those issues and inexperience exploding in a class of 12 to 15 other children.

But such a disruption is just the beginning, experts say, because it slows down the rest of the class, which drags down their development entering school.

Jameson has tried to keep the cuts away from the classroom. He let one teacher’s assistant go, and has been unable to send his teachers to professional development conferences — admittedly smaller cuts, but ones he said would compound over time.

“In the long run, teachers won’t have that energy if you don’t provide professional development, and they’ll go elsewhere,” Jameson said.

Public education in Kansas is coming apart at the seams, and Jameson can no longer recommend to others what is his family’s vocation.

So it was with a wavering voice that he told one of his favorite onetime high school students, now a college graduate, that she should seek work as a teacher 12 miles east, in rival Missouri, because cutbacks to the education system in Kansas leave him unable to promise the future of his investment to her.

“It was hard. I wanted her to make the best choice for her,” Jameson said. “I was always proud of Kansas education. I can’t be as strong about that conviction anymore.

“The finances are making it hard to meet the needs of our kids,” he said. “The climate makes it hard to recruit good teachers. If you hear the legislators bashing you all the time, the governor bashing you all the time, you can choose to go to another state.”

Changes to the Legislature could reverse course, but the process will not be easy, Loomis said. Even with repeals of the tax exemptions of LLCs and partnerships, which could amount to several hundred million dollars, the changes will be “a drop in the bucket.”

Other than sunny repetitions of Brownback’s mantra that the economy will indeed reverse course once his economic experiment has a chance to work, there are no short-term plans to save the state.

Even if the Legislature raises personal income taxes and repeals the exemption on business taxes, the state will not see its first receipts until 2018.

In the meantime, the hole grows and grows.

“It demonstrates the pickle that Brownback and the Legislature have gotten this state in,” Loomis said. “There’s no easy way out.”


Lee Ellerd 1 year, 4 months ago

But brownie and his koch headed supporters in the legislature don't care. They know where their pay is coming from and its not their state paychecks that matter.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 4 months ago

"Hard times for Kansas".........."budget shortfalls".............."reduced finding for schools".......

So why have the impeachments not begun?? This is what you get from Republicans. And we are about to witness it on a national scale. This is what you get from "conservatives'.

Thanks Rush Limbaugh!!!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 4 months ago

It's because Republicans have made sure that it's next to impossible to impeach a governor.

Bob Summers 1 year, 4 months ago

Budget shortfalls mean government people are spending too much.

Liberals tell us they are intelligent. But, they can't quite seem to wrap their complex critical thinking minds around this basic economic fact.

Too funny!

Paul Beyer 1 year, 4 months ago

Because the alt-right controls his mind and every word he posts?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 4 months ago

He either lives with mommy in her basement, or he's on SS disability, because he his back hurts, and he just can't work.

Pete Kennamore 1 year, 4 months ago

These kind of posts cheapen you Dorothy. You're better than that....aren't you?

Chris Bohling 1 year, 4 months ago

Bob I have a question: If the government spends too much, whose fault is that? It couldn't possibly be the legislature's fault, right? Y'know, the people who create and approve the budget?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 4 months ago

"government people are spending too much." The call of the wild for the alt-right!!

Their crusade to protect the billionaires from reasonable taxation to fund the services that the people expect from the government like paved roads, public utilities, public schools, and other government resources. They cost money for you "conservative" types.

William Enick 1 year, 4 months ago

The neoconservative agenda is going as planned. It's happening across the country. Kobach didn't get a promotion by doing the will of the electorate, he got it by attempting to take the democratic process out of the governmental process which is now owned and controlled and bought and paid for by the corporate state (wall street), including the military industrial complex. It's named neoliberalism. There is no alternative. Well, there is but it doesn't have much to do with the corporate run government... ( and as long as you don't get in the faces of the 1% with it, they really could care less.

Patricia Davis 1 year, 4 months ago

Brownback's live, lab experiment is dead. This Presidential election/cabinet selection and advisors is Kansas on steroids. To say I am not optimistic about the result is a huge understatement. Yet when I read this story about education in Columbus, I felt a strange twinge of hope. If we were the experiment for the always going to fail trickle down economics, why can't we be where the revolution begins to take back our state? Can't we put aside our personal/religious agendas and focus on what is best for our children's educations and by doing so, create a more vibrant economy?

We have 105 counties in Kansas with a population of approximately 2.9 million. Compare that to California which as 58 counties and a population of 38.8 million. Let's consider going unicameral as Nebraska has done and reduce waste and quagmire of two congressional houses. Let's make ourselves more cost effective by reducing the number of counties. Let's build regional education consortiums for purchasing and other administrative expenses. Let's build a state-wide, state of the art technology system so the best and brightest in western Kansas can have access to subjects not available in their home towns.

Let's take back our state and build something better.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 4 months ago

I don't think the experiment is dead. Trump wants to take it nationwide.

Tony Peterson 1 year, 4 months ago

Sammy the specimens in your test tube died almost immediately. You can pray that they'll come back to life, keep rubbing your lucky rabbit's foot hoping that there might be some life, and stick your head in a hole in the ground pretending that they aren't dead but they are and have been.

He's like Norman Bates who thinks that his mummified mother is just sleeping.

George McDuffee 1 year, 4 months ago

Reactionary neo-conservatism [neo-liberalism outside the US] has again been tried and found to be a failure. While it MAY have been viable in the mainly agricultural and mining based Kansas economy of 1916, it is now 2016, and the Kansas socio-economy/culture is now far different, with significant urbanization, manufacturing, and a need for educated/trained citizens far beyond 1916.

A robust economy and prosperous citizens drive business profits, not the other way round. We are in a death spiral to becoming a mid-west Appalachia, with the reduction of funding for education and infrastructure [among other things].

A major concern is the continuing and accelerating de-industrialization/depopulation of the small Kansas towns and cities. with mass migration to the already overcrowded urban areas, with the conversion of the internal economic "refugees" from net producing independent citizens into net consuming dependent clients.

Shane Garrett 1 year, 4 months ago

The migration to tomorrow and by that I mean soon, will be similar to that of the depression era. And again monied componies will buy the property of the poorest for profit gains.

Robert Brock 1 year, 4 months ago

This is a failed state, Folks. Get out while you can.

Dave Kruse 1 year, 4 months ago

Kansas economics is the gop blue print for the entire country. Trump and a gop congress is going to force this failed platform down our throats. Trump and the gop will throw the United States into the worst economic crash even worse than the great depression. We are headed for very dark times. Thanks trumpettes! You'll own it.

Kelly Ryan 1 year, 4 months ago

Patricia, I agree 100%. There are only 15 counties in Arizona. How many levels are needed? Even unified governments like in Wyandotte would make sense.

Michael Kort 1 year, 4 months ago

Doesn't Sam look just like "Mr Rogers" with his sweater under his suit coat ? .....kind of like a warm and fuzzy guy ?...... who really likes children?........... Sam probably got there just in time to talk the children out of their lunches...... because the poor "1% family" is "overtaxed" "homeless" with "no mittens" and they need everybodies lunches.... really bad !

Dave Trabert 1 year, 4 months ago

This is another made-up story by media. There was a proposed $45 million cut in 2015...Governor said he would do it unless the Legislature found other ways to balance the budget...and they did. The $45 million cut never occurred. Not that the LA Times let that get in the way. And now LJ World is perpetuating the myth.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 4 months ago

Taxpayers Must Decide!

The state house is moving forward on the ALEC agenda to defund and disable public education.

Turning the system over to profiteers will neither improve the system nor will it reduce the cost. Of course once in place a tax increase will be developed to keep the margins wherever the profiteers so desire.

Taxpaying school districts must decide whether or not we want to turn over the properties we own to profiteers. OUR tax dollars are heavily invested in our local public schools.

School District taxpayers must decide if defunding and disabling public education will work anywhere.

School District taxpayers must decide if compromising the standards of staff by way of compromising the credentials of staff set forth over the many decades is a policy we the local school district taxpayers can accept. Compromising the credentials has in fact been mentioned by way of the statehouse.

Are School District Taxpayers willing to submit the authority to hire and fire personnel to the statehouse?

Yes public ed teachers deserve a wage that represents their investment in our children and their investment in their credentials.

Excellent public education is and has been a powerful driver of economic growth in most communities.

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