When tragedy strikes ‒ and it has been striking a lot lately ‒ we often look around for something to hold on to, something firm and immutable, the things and events that keep us steady and grounded. We often look to the past, anchored and even shining, but with a caveat not to stare into the bright lights.
A year ago we celebrated the opening of the Garfield Street Expressway, a glorious re-paving of the street’s two block stretch between Second and Kansas in north Lindsborg. We put a grand name to it because it brought us great joy, a small project that converted a crater-laden, crack-ridden backwater trail to a gleaming blacktop smooth as marble.
Before the improvement the road had been a fearsome hazard, narrow, its edges crumbling, a bone-jarring ride and hazardous for anyone thinking about making a passage with oncoming traffic. Now it was beauty.
In truth, it was only a couple of blocks, a small thing. But small matters, without the attention and vigilance of good government, can grow into big trouble. At the time, we noted that such little solutions, quickly and painlessly, have a larger meaning; those small solutions are the kind that turn a teethrattling two-block trail into a glorious Expressway. Or keep a park pristine. Or restrooms safe and sanitary. Or the streets clean, or a downtown tidy and well-lit and landscaped and Lucia Park, the city’s smallest, the status of a jewel.
Our municipal government makes it possible a thousand times over. The little things, like a patch of street or a tiny park, are fine reminders of why we have a government, and in our case, a jolly good one.
Elections have not gone well
A year ago this month, certain people were upset with the Supreme Court’s sanction of gay marriage, and proposed that an election – not the Court – was the proper forum for settling the issue. Trouble was, Kansas seemed no place to settle much of anything with an election. In this state, an election was likely to double the trouble rather than resolve it.
We worried that so far, our elections had brought us a governor deluded with childish theology and, at mid-point in his grotesque career, gripped only by a primal urge to prevail at all cost. Elections brought us a legislature of Republicans with an almost pathological hatred of all learning (see how they abhor education), who deny all human dignity (they scoff at the poor, the sick, the aged), who detest all beauty, all fine and noble things (the arts, roads and bridges, affordable health care, social welfare, for starters…). Kansas elections, we noted, had become little more than tin-pot auctions financed by one Koch cause or another, the preserve of special interest radicals, deep-pocket dilettantes and supply-siders. Kansas elections have been a pro-forma stamp for the fringe parties’ incumbent petting zoo, parrots and lap dogs cemented into office by the convenience and control of electronic voting. We’d done a poor job with our elections.
What will we do with the next one? Can we change, or will we again re-elect those failures?
Schools: the trouble had only begun
Block grants: a death notice for local schools. That’s how, a year ago this month, we assessed the Republicans’ new scheme for local school finance. Not much has changed.
At that time, Gov. Sam Brownback had insisted that total funding for local schools has gone up “substantially.”
The Kansas Department of Education reported that Brownback’s additional $195 million for K-12 schools was a bottom-line number, and not an increase in operating costs, the nucleus in school finance. Of that total, about $100 million was to replace losses in local property tax levies formerly ordered by the Court. (Taxes in the state’s low-wealth districts had been forced higher because equalization aid to those districts was under-funded, the Court ruled.) Another $38 million was for under-funded employee pensions; $17 million was for aid to districts’ bond and interest accounts.
That left $40.5 million (not $195 million) for increased operating expenses across the state’s 286 school districts.
Statewide, it costs about $4.9 billion to educate 461,000 local public school students. That’s $10,629 per pupil for a 186-day school year: $57.15 a day, or $285.75 per week.
The $40.5 million increase comes to 47 cents a day, or $2.35 a week per pupil – an increase of eight tenths of one percent. Substantial?
That was last year. This year, not much change.
Will we be able to say a year from now that we did something about it with an election?