Monday, February 22, 2016
GOP States and Public Education
It’s complicated. For higher education, the mantra has been to cut per student budget allocations and increase tuition for what used to be relatively cheap, in-state public colleges and universities. Further, states have cut student aid, placing a much greater burden on middle class students who now struggle with market-rate student loans and a 2005 amendment to the US bankruptcy law that makes student loans really hard to discharge. Bernie Sanders is all for making college free or near-free, and while Democratic opponent Clinton wants to lessen the burden on students, opposition to these increases in governmental educational expenditures in Congress and state legislatures is fierce.
At the public primary and secondary school level, there are some truly ugly realities, and nowhere is it more graphically unfair than in Kansas. Between a legislature that is totally Republican controlled to an ultra-right-wing GOP governor, Sam Brownback, the state thought it had figured out how to cut school expenditures without reducing the quality of the education for the sons and daughters of their conservative constituents. For those not part of this conservative minority, well, they don’t have voting power anyway, so who cares. This economic and political underbelly would simply have to be the sacrificial lamb to maintain the quality of schools for those good, traditional, Christ-fearing white citizens. Apply the cuts to communities that did not support the GOP traditionalists and give the money to those who played ball with the conservatives in power.
Strangely, the local Kansas Supreme Court (pictured above and with lots of justices appointed by GOP administrations) looked at the situation and realized what was going on. Equal protection under the law had slipped quietly away. And while the court could have ordered the overall educational budget simply to be more equally divided among the divergent school districts, balancing the equities, instead it just gave the legislature until June 30 to fix the inequalities… or the court would shut down the entire primary and secondary school system. Wow! Had it ordered that equal allocation, all Kansas public school students would receive a really inferior education.
Brownback is a believer in Reaganomics – supply-side, trickle-down economics where lower taxes were supposed to generate vast pools of additional money as businesses grew by reason of Brownback’s successful implementation of reduced Kansas income tax. Apparently, Brownback did not bother to check to see that the trickle-down tax cuts are almost always just kept by the rich, and that the wealthy’s decisions to grow their businesses were not simply based on tax cuts. Like most folks who have applied this disproved theory, Kansas saved rich people from taxes, but business did not grow to generate more revenue that would benefit even the state government.
So the state had the same level of governmental expenses but a severely reduced tax base to provide the necessary revenues to cover them. An embarrassed Brownback now was forced to slash and burn his budget since his supply-side tax-cutting policy was a rather abysmal failure. Simply, there was a $200 million shortfall from what Brownback (and his legislative cronies) had predicted, a big number for a relatively small state (population-wise). Minority kids were an easy “give.”
“‘The legislature’s unsuccessful attempts to equitably, i.e., fairly, allocate resources among the school districts not only creates uncertainty in planning the 2016-2017 school year but also has the potential to interrupt the operation of Kansas’ public schools,’ the court said… The decision is the latest blow to Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and the state Legislature, which will probably have to find tens of millions of dollars in its budget for additional education funding… John S. Robb, a lawyer for the school districts and parents who are suing the state, estimated that the Legislature would have to add $73 million to the system to satisfy the court.
“The Legislature’s ‘chosen path during the 2016 session will ultimately determine whether Kansas students will be treated fairly and the schoolhouse doors will be open to them in August,’ the ruling said… Democrats and moderate Republicans say that the failure to provide enough money for schools is more proof that Mr. Brownback’s tax-cutting experiment has failed.
“‘It really came down to our Supreme Court saying, once again, that the state has not done enough to address the inequities in our finance system,’ Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said in an interview. ‘We hope that the Legislature will respond to the court in a timely fashion.’” New York Times, February 11th. Supply-side economics almost always fails, but the theory constantly gets resurrected by conservative politicians who think if they simply give the theory a new name – like “job-creation” economics – folks will vote for them even though this economic structure is one of the most discredited theories of the last 50 years.
I still read treatises from what are supposed to be sophisticated right-leaning economists who present facts and figures that their GOP handlers are demanding to justify policies to make the rich richer (those who make the big campaign contributions love tax cuts) at the expense of everyone else… with a rather dramatic failure toward the real creation of the promised substantial, value-added jobs. 70% of working Americans have made less, year-to-year for two decades plus, in real buying power, and those in venues ruled by supply-side economics have fared even worse, as the Kansas experience illustrates. Perhaps these economic fools need a lower-performing educational system, since only uneducated people (plus a few of the greedy class) would even keep buying into this clearly failed economic theory.
I’m Peter Dekom, and getting to and living in the real appears to be exceptionally difficult for way too many Americans, especially those in states with particular bad schools.