School finance in Kansas has moved from a sophisticated national model to a slow-witted script straight from the tunnel sewers in a Dickens tragedy – from the streamlined to the bread line.
Groveling is now demanded in the state’s revised edition of school finance, with funding set in stand-alone block “grants” for each school district. This limits schools to amounts budgeted in prior years, ignoring the imponderables that complicate budgets. The governor doesn’t care. His pet legislators don’t care. School districts short-changed by the system’s treachery must come to Topeka and beg for more, as though the system were directed by Bumble the Beadle, Oliver Twist’s workhouse headmaster.
The abuse began almost immediately after the legislature junked the state’s former school finance law on grounds that it was “hard to understand.” (For these rubes, a number beyond two digits is hard to understand.) In early May, representatives of eight school districts appeared before the State Finance Council, a committee of high officials run by Gov. Sam Brownback. The districts sought extra funds for unanticipated or unfunded expenses. Among them was Concordia, forced to close early, and where several staff members donated portions of their salaries to avoid layoffs.
The begging was pre-ordained. At Brownback’s direction, the legislature had slipped between $50 million and $100 million in overall cuts into the block-grant funding for local districts.
This cut-a-check financing (one size fits nobody) ignores the disparities, fluctuations, demographics, economies, racial and cultural composites, and other differences among school districts across Kansas. It tells us that the authors of this legislation have no idea how schools operate or why. More, they don’t care.
The attacks on teachers, the raid on their pension funds, the demands for finger-printing and background checks among other insults and invasions, reveal an unbridled arrogance and contempt for local schools, their teachers and administrators, their students, their parents and patrons. Demanding that shorted educators come beg for their due marks a first time for wholesale derision as government policy.
Two weeks ago, as dozens more districts lined up to appeal for increased aid, top Republican legislators abruptly changed the rules, sending letters demanding that school superintendent provide more information to show how their districts “used efficiencies to improve outcomes in the classroom.” They were given less than two days.
This is like FEMA demanding Katrina survivors show how they used “efficiencies” to improve their living standards as the debris continued to wash up against the Superdome.
Keep in mind that this abasement is directed by a crowd that led the state into an $800 million budget shortfall. It includes such notables as the governor, a top lackey for the Koch brothers and groundskeeper for Arthur Laffer’s supply-side hobby farm, and Ty Masterson, Chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and who gained his appointment as the Senate’s budget expert not long after he declared personal bankruptcy and left creditors hanging with more than $1 million in debt.
These are among the geniuses who demand that schools beg for money they should already have.
They want more?
EVEN SOMEONE with the IQ of a goat can see that this Begging Board, with its arbitrary funding of local schools, is unconstitutional. Not to mention its intent to harass and humiliate an entire class of public employees and dedicated servants.
The Supreme Court has ruled at least three times in the past 15 years that wealth should not be a factor in the quality of education in a school district. But at least there was a factor, even if it was an illegal one. With the Begging Board, the funding for local schools is purely a function of whim and fantasy, a product of fabrication and deceit, an invention as sound and infallible as the pattern of clouds on a wind-blown Kansas sky.
This is torture, not school finance.