This page explains, briefly, the budget situation in Kansas, brings you up to date on the latest news, and connects you with our partners working to bring fiscal sanity back to the state.
In Brief: In 2012, the Governor and his allies cut income taxes for the most significant income earners in the state. Since then, Kansas has fallen into a worsening spiral of stagnant growth, missed revenue estimates, lowered debt ratings, and cuts to spending on crucial programs like public education, health care, and infrastructure. Meanwhile, the states around us, and the nation in general, have prospered.
Moderate position: We believe in a balanced approach to revenue, a common-sense approach to spending, and compassionate policy choices. Government works best when revenue is gathered from property, sales, and income taxes. Reducing income taxes to zero puts an undue burden on the Kansas middle class, while studies have shown that unburdening the upper income earners does not lead to general prosperity. The path back to prosperity requires that we restore the revenue.
Kansas is required, by law, to balance the budget each and every year. That has proven nigh impossible lately, requiring deep cuts to important programs, irresponsible borrowing against state employee retirements, and one-time shuffling of funds among state agencies.
These actions by the Governor and his allies are not sustainable, and at some point, something will have to give. We hope it will be their callous unwillingness to admit their mistake in slashing taxes. But we're not holding our breath.
The answer, of course, is simply. Restore the revenue that was lost.
Now, Governor Brownback and his allies among the Kansas legislators are working to staunch the bleeding from their irresponsible tax cuts by slashing education further. So far this year we have seen retro-active mid-year education cuts of over $120 million, a proposal for "level-funding" via block grants that would ignore cost of living and other needs for several years, and a re-write of the funding formula for public education.
Together, these changes are designed to make K12 allotments more palatable to the limited-government legislators and their financial patrons, regardless of whether the budget will provide the necessary tools to help every Kansas child succeed.
And that's just school finance.
Public education has also seen teachers devalued, their rights taken away, their opportunities for training reduced. A voucher program installed last year that gives massive corporate tax credits in exchange for private school "scholarship" money is being expanded this year. Rigorous educational standards are being challenged, threatening our schools' excellence. There is even an attempt to criminalize teaching anything a parent might find objectionable.
Here are some links to catch up on the latest:
- Kansas Senate passes bill easing prosecution of teachers for distributing ‘harmful material’ - KC Star
- Kansas bill limiting sex education material advances with no debate - LJ World
- Kansas House, Senate pass teacher collective bargaining compromise - LJ World
- House Ed Dismisses Educators; Sides with Lobbyist Dave Trabert - Under the Dome
- Senate bill strikes teacher protection from prosecution - CJ Online
- Midyear cut in funding puts Brownback, school districts at odds over use of reserve funds - KC Star
- Education Is Newest Target of Kansas Budget Cuts - NYT, Feb 11, 2015
- It's Up To Us - Cynthia Lane, KCKPS Superintendent
- Caught between greed and religion: the battle for Kansas public education - The Guardian, Jan 20, 2015
- Brownback K-12 plan prompts questions of court maneuver - CJ Online, Jan 19, 2015
How we got here
Conservative and libertarian party platforms have routinely balked at the cost of public education and other governmental functions. But in Kansas, we have a long history of strong public schools, a tradition that has led to the state's reputation as a compelling place to raise a family and grow a business.
That all began to change in 2008, when the great recession hit Kansas hard, and everyone in state government was asked to shoulder the burden. Public schools carried their share, with the understanding that when the economy improved, cuts would be restored, in alignment with the legislature's constitution obligation.
- Governor makes sweeping cuts - CJ Online, Nov 23, 2009
- Legislature’s 2006 Constitutional Obligation – CJ Online Dec 31, 2014
But when the economy started to recover, Governor Brownback and his allies in the legislature choose to break their campaign promises to the schools. Instead, they enacted the now infamous experimental income tax cuts of 2012. Best case scenario from this financial incentive to small businesses was to be a shot of adrenaline in the arm of the Kansas economy, and the rising tide of economic growth would float all boats.
Instead, the economic "recovery" has been a disaster on numerous fronts. Brownback's own administration has been unable to forecast revenue in any reliable way, leaving the state perpetually behind in paying its bills. Kansas has suffered from virtually no economic growth, despite a vibrant national economy, leading one to the inescapable metaphor that in the middle of this rising tide, our boat has been holed by its own captain.
The state was sued again in 2009 for failing to restore public education funding to suitable levels, as defined by the 2006 Supreme Court ruling. This new case, Gannon vs Kansas, was decided in 2014, appealed, decided again, put off, and left up in the air. Here is some background from the Supreme Court's appeal ruling.
- Original decision: Court: Kansas Legislature’s level of funding for schools unconstitutional - LJWorld, Jan 11, 2013
- After Brownback's Appeal: Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools - NYT, Mar 7, 2014
- MainStream's Explainer on the Gannon decision handed down by the Supreme Court - Mar 10, 2014
At the end of the session in 2014, directly after the Court had handed down its decision, the extremists in the Kansas Legislature passed a middle of the night bill nobody was given the chance to read, that purported to fulfill the Court's requirement, but also stripped some teachers' rights and gave tax money to private schools. By most accounts it was a travesty of the legislative process.
- Kansas lawmakers pass school finance bill merging funding equity with education reforms - KC Star, Apr 6, 2014
At the close of 2014, Kansans faced an estimated $1 Billion dollar budget hole into FY2016. Gov Brownback has again turned to the public education system, the biggest user of state funds, to balance his income tax cuts. Public education in Kansas is already closing buildings, reducing staff numbers, increasing class sizes, and begging funds from their local home owners. Our K12 schools have no more fat to trim, there hasn't been for years.
As with anything political, the facts and the spin fly fast and furious. Here are a few facts that cannot be denied, no matter how they try.
Kansas budget primer
Ballotpedia provides user-friendly descriptive reports on state budgets, breaking down costs and comparing neighboring states neighboring states. Kansas collects and spends about $6 billion from state funds, called the "State General Fund." This is the part of the budget that pays for state services like education and roads. This is the part of the budget everyone talks about when we have budget issues regarding schools, roads and such. The state income taxes up until 2012 had typically generated about 50% of State General Fund revenues. And, Kansas had traditionally spent about 50% of the State General Fund on public education, as do most other states.
Here's a link: "Kansas state budget" on Ballotpedia