Earlier this week, Kansas State Representative Scott Schwab (R-Olathe), sent an email to public school teachers and others in his district. You can read it below, but it is in reaction to drastic cuts the Olathe School District has made as a result of school finance cuts.
His email is filled with bombast, half-truths, and political double talk. He repeats often-pushed narratives from those who would see public schools defunded. And it's three months too late, these cuts were announced in July.
This is a political stunt, paid for by "Campaign to Elect Schwab," that paints the district administration and its school board as "misrepresenting" facts in order to take advantage of the teacher's union in upcoming salary negotiations.
By implication, Rep. Schwab accuses Superintendent Marlin Berry and the Olathe School Board of needlessly firing staff, wantonly cutting programs, and lying to their employees in order to do what? Pay teachers less? Line their own pockets? Or is it to "kill morale?" The lack of any actual accusation, any suggested reason for the alleged willful acts, puts the lie to Rep. Schwab's email.
In fact, it is Rep. Schwab who should be held to task for making willfully inaccurate statements. He argues that Mr. Berry has "killed morale" with the cuts back in July, when it would seem that the Legislature's cutting of school funds, the partisan repeal of teacher due process rights, the devaluation of teaching certificates and training... these would seem to be more demoralizing than the difficult cuts required by funding realities.
Rep. Schwab continues with the party line that school funding has actually increased, and that the block grants allow more freedom in spending. He intimates that this freedom should allow the District to shift all available funds into teacher and staff salaries, and away from meals, buses, buildings, and infrastructure. But the truth is, while the final funding numbers have gone up, they are padded with retirement funds included as "education funding" in order to raise numbers, and dampened by inflation, an economic fact the Legislature in Topeka conveniently ignores when needed. In fact, when you account for inflation, school funding levels are currently below what they were in 2009, six years ago!
Now, with the block grants supported by Rep. Schwab, the Legislature has finally admitted that they won't be increasing education funding. Funds are frozen for two years, with no measure to account for changing student populations or district conditions. Or inflation. But then, as we've pointed out, they don't believe in inflation with respect to school funding. Districts in dire straits can apply for emergency funds from the state, but when they did that, Olathe Schools were denied any additional money.
The truth is, school districts across the state, Olathe included, have been snipping and trimming and holding plans back for a decade now, hoping the tide will turn on school funding. But it hasn't. And the result is clear, school districts are closing schools, firing staff, and cutting back on programs. It is not just Olathe. Rural schools are feeling it. Johnson County schools are feeling it. Every district will feel it.
Here is what galls us the most about this email. Rep. Schwab and his allies in the Kansas Legislature voted to reduce school spending. To reduce teacher certification requirements. To remove teacher due process protections. To throw out the flexible school finance formula in favor of a rigid cap on school finance. Yet in this email, he tries to cozy up to the very constituents he has attacked, suggesting that he has their best interest at heart, and that their administration, elected school board, and communities cannot be trusted.
That seems disingenuous at best.