A Shawnee County District Court three judge panel ruled Friday that the Kansas legislature continues to violate the Kansas constitution by underfunding public K-12 education. The decision follows a similar 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The Friday ruling found that current school funding levels are 16% below constitutional requirements.
Many have written about the emphasis on education in the locations with incredible entrepreneurial growth - Silicon Valley, the North Carolina Research Triangle, Austin, TX and elsewhere. For what can best be described as ideological reasons (supported by Arthur Laffer!), Kansas Governor Sam Brownback elected to pursue a strategy at odds with those places while simultaneously claiming to seek to create the same environment.
Plaintiffs, composed of several school districts from across the state, argued that constitutionally-mandated funding could have been maintained but the state legislature instead elected to pass tax cuts. The court agreed:
"It seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state's diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further, thereby reducing the sources of revenue on the basis of a hope that doing so will create a boost to the state's economy at some point in the future," the court wrote.During the 2012 legislative session, Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican-dominated legislature passed a package of tax cuts designed to “grow our economy.” The cuts reduced individual income tax rates by 15% for lower income individuals to as much as 25% for higher income filers. The legislation also eliminated income taxes entirely for almost 200,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other small businesses. At the time of passage, the Kansas Legislative Research Department indicated that the tax cuts would produce a $2.5 billion budget shortfall by 2018.
Education Week ranked Kansas public schools 37th in the country in its 2012 “Quality Counts” annual report. The organization gave the state a D for kindergarten through 12th grade achievement and D in the teaching profession category. The state’s overall C average came in just below the national average. Most ominously, the state received an F grade for college readiness.
It is reasonable to ask business leaders who among them are interested in moving their business to a state which appears interested in chronically underfunding education. Are there business leaders interested in moving their families to a state that provides a substandard education? Are there business leaders interested in opening shop in a state that produces poorly educated future employees?
Or maybe the more appropriate question is directed to Governor Brownback – which types of businesses do you hope to attract to the state of Kansas? Do you seek companies with paychecks that lead to a sustainable, middle class life standard of living? Or companies who seek to exacerbate growing income inequality?
Governor Brownback referred to his tax cuts as a “real living experiment.” For those who advocate government to be “run like a business,” it would be interesting to know more about how the governor has hedged his bet on this experiment to reduce risk to the entire state.
Just for fun, the 2013 Kansas legislature, newly empowered with an even more conservative majority in both houses, will now pursue reforms to the collective bargaining process for teachers.
The governor may want to ask Mitt Romney how that worked for him in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Florida.