In a press release, ACU said “This year’s ratings of the 2015 Kansas legislature by the American Conservative Union Foundation revealed that a little over a quarter of all Republican legislators are willing to do what it takes to defend the freedom of everyday Kansans. After an analysis of their voting records, ACU will recognize 36 members for their effort to work towards enacting conservative solutions.”
The chair of ACU is Matt Schlapp, a former Wichitan and son of former Wichita City Council Member Sue Schlapp.
According to ACU, the ratings are based on constitutional principles: “Like our Congressional ratings, ACU’s State Ratings reflect how elected officials view the role of government in an individual’s life. Kansas legislators with the strongest scores consistently voted with the ideals articulated in our U.S. Constitution.”
ACU says these members will receive a 2015 ACU Ratings Award:
Representatives: BRUNK, B. CARPENTER, CLAEYS, CORBET, COUTURE-LOVELADY, DeGRAAF, GARBER, GOICO, GROSSERODE, HIGHLAND, HILDABRAND, HOUSER, K. JONES, KELLEY, LUNN, MACHEERS, MASON, McPHERSON, POWELL, RHOADES, SCHWAB, SUTTON, THIMESCH, TODD, and WHITMER
Senators: BAUMGARDNER, DENNING, LYNN, MELCHER, O’DONNELL, PILCHER-COOK, POWELL, PYLE, and SMITH
The ACU press release is here, and the full report with vote explanations and rakings for all members is here.
I wonder if the reporters and editors at Wichita Business Journal can see the rich irony in this article. It reports on a group of business leaders complaining about the lack of information about Wichita.
I wonder if we’ve forgotten about the role of newspapers, their websites, and mobile apps.
Emerging Leaders want to know what’s happening in Wichita
Daniel McCoy, Wichita Business Journal
Wichita has a lot of great things going on, but how do people find out about them?
There should be an app for that, say members of the Emerging Leaders program.
Rather than having to visit a number of individual websites to find out about what’s happening locally, the all-female group of 10 Emerging Leaders who sat down with the WBJ as part of the Breakfast with the Editor series on Friday say Wichita would be well-served to have a single place people can go for a comprehensive list of all the goings on in the community.
The Kansas Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act — K.S.A. 72-8254 passed in 2013 requires every school district to publish specific budget information for the current school year and actual expenditures for the immediately preceding two school years, and stipulates that the report “shall be published with an easily identifiable link located on such district’s website homepage.” Unfortunately, some districts still fail to comply with this very simple transparency requirement.
This table shows the results of a random sample of 40 districts’ web sites. The five districts in column 1 were found to be in compliance; the required report appears by title on the home page and the link goes directly to the report. Column 2 lists twenty-three districts that don’t link the report as required but do provide a generic link (e.g., “Budget Information”) that goes to a page where the report can be accessed with another link. The twelve districts in column 3 have nothing visible on their home
This ongoing problem was brought to the attention of legislators and the Department of Education several times in 2014, and last year Senate Bill 188 was introduced to add a consequence for non-compliance; if not in compliance within 30 days of written notice, districts would be fined $1,000 per day until doing so. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-13 and was carried over to the House this year where it should be scheduled for a vote.
Democrats and Republicans alike are calling for increased transparency this year. It will be interesting to see how many are willing to hold school districts accountable to existing transparency law.
An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.
The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2015 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, bot total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Journalist, novelist, and blogger Bud Norman joins host Bob Weeks to discuss presidential election politics. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 108, broadcast February 7, 2016.
In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: There are things simple and noncontroversial that the Kansas Legislature should do in its upcoming session. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast January 3, 2016.
In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: The Wichita City Manager says “we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.” So what actually happens when you ask the city for data, including data that many governmental agencies make freely available? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast December 13, 2015.
The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful.
The Greater Wichita Partnership is a reorganization of local economic development agencies. It has asked the Sedgwick County Commission for $300,000 to fund a portion of its activities this year. Those on the commission who are skeptical of GWP and its predecessors have asked for measurable outcomes of the progress GWP makes.
Here is a paragraph from the agreement with GWP that commissioners will consider this week:
9. Measurable Outcomes. GWP shall be subject to measureable outcomes as it shall determine, subject to review by the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. GWP shall present an annual report to the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners at a regularly-scheduled Commission meeting no later than December 31, 2016.
I appreciate the attempt by members of the county commission to ask for accountability. But this paragraph is so weak as to be meaningless. The nature of the measurable outcomes is not defined, even in broad strokes. Further, GWP gets to decide, at an unknown time, what constitutes the measurable outcomes. Then the county commission gets to “review” them, which is a weak — really, nonexistent — form of oversight. We ought to ask that the county commission “approve” them, and sooner rather than later.
But there is a bit of good news. Paragraph 10 of the agreement calls for a separate accounting fund to be created for the money the taxpayers of Sedgwick County will give to GWP. Then: “GWP agrees and understands that, by entering into this funding Agreement, any and all of its records, documents, and other information related to the Fund and the activities financed thereby shall be open and made available to the public upon request, in accordance with the Kansas Open Records Act.”
That’s good news, and a move towards the type of transparency and accountability that local governments — especially the City of Wichita — promote but finds difficult to actually deliver. Although this provision applies to only the county-supplied funds, hopefully GWP will realize that being transparent is better than being secretive.
Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.
Across the state Kansas newspapers declare Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts a failure. There are two prongs of criticism. One is that the budget is not balanced; that is, the state is spending more than it has received in revenue. That has been true, especially for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. That problem can be fixed by either collecting more revenue, or by cutting spending. Last year the Governor and the Legislature decided to balance the budget by relying, almost entirely, on collecting more revenue. Raising taxes, in other words.
The second prong of attack on the tax cuts is to hold them responsible for spending cuts. This is what really upsets the state’s liberals and moderates. Here’s an example. Former Kansas State Budget Director Duane Goossen recently wrote “The Brownback tax cuts brought the revenue stream down so significantly that truly damaging expense cuts coupled with a sales tax increase have not repaired the budgetary mess.” (emphasis added) (I will agree with Goossen that we have a problem with the budget, a problem that could be fixed with relatively small reforms in spending. But Goossen wants more revenue.)
But have there been severe spending cuts in Kansas? “Truly damaging” cuts? While some programs have been trimmed, overall state spending continues on a largely upward trend (for all funds spending) or remains mostly flat (for general fund spending).
So why are Kansas liberals and moderates upset? It is the spending of money by government that is important when considering how well the state is providing the services liberals and moderates (conservatives, too) look for government to provide. Taxation is merely one way to pay for government spending. And spending isn’t declining.
Is this an important distinction?
For the years when Kansas was spending down its bank balance, the state was experiencing the benefit of Washington-style deficit spending. That is, the state was spending more than it collected in revenue. The difference is that Kansas made up the revenue deficit by using savings rather than debt. (At least mostly so.)
(Another difference between Kansas and federal spending is that Kansas can’t continue to borrow to support spending unless it engages in extraordinary measures, some of which may have happened. The federal budget, however, has been in a permanent state of deficit spending since 2000 and appears to remain in deficit for as far as anyone can project.)
The takeaway is that problems with balancing the budget is not the same as spending cuts. We’ve had the former, but not the latter, when considering the entire budget.
Nearby charts show Kansas government spending, from both the general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.
Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0
There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.
It’s been three years since the tax cuts in Kansas took effect; tax cuts said by Governor Brownback to be a “shot in the arm” for the Kansas economy. Opponents of the governor and the tax cuts take great delight in reporting the generally anemic growth of the Kansas economy since then. Month after month, the tax cuts are condemned by Kansas newspaper editorial writers and the governor’s detractors.
I don’t think it’s a particularly strong form of argument to defend someone by showing how someone else is equally as bad — or worse. Similarly, criticizing someone for their fixation on A while they ignore the equally bad B: We need to know why they ignore B. Have they forgotten B? Do they not have time to write about B? Or do they ignore B because the fact of B is inconvenient to their ideology or their criticism of A? But I see that not everyone shares these ideals, and even so, perhaps we can learn something.
Many people remember that President Barack Obama promised that the unemployment rate would not top eight percent if the stimulus was passed. In January 2009 two Obama administration officials, including Christina Romer (who would become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) wrote a paper estimating what the national unemployment rate would be with, and without, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, commonly known as the stimulus. That plan passed.
The Romer paper included a graph of projected unemployment rates. The nearby chart from e21 took the Romer chart and added
actual unemployment rates. (The accompanying article is Revisiting unemployment projections. That chart and article were created in 2011. I’ve updated the chart to show the actual unemployment rate since then, as black dots. The data shows that the actual unemployment rate was above the Obama administration projections — with or without the stimulus plan — for the entire period of projections.
The purpose of this is not to defend Brownback by showing how Obama is even worse. (Disclosure: Although I am a Republican, I didn’t vote for Brownback for governor.) Instead, we ought to take away two lessons: First, let’s learn to place an appropriately low value on the promises and boasts made by politicians. Then, let’s recognize the weak power government has to manage the economy for positive effect. Indeed, the lesson of the Obama stimulus is that it made the unemployment rate worse than if there had been no stimulus — at least according to the administration projections.
And, there is one more lesson to learn about our state’s newspaper reporters and editorial writers, but I think you’ve discovered that already.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are worthy goals the Kansas Legislature should tackle, and the need for school choice in Kansas. Episode 107, broadcast January 31, 2016. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.
For years Kansas schools have used low standards to evaluate students. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren.
This is the finding of the EducationNext report After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards. EducationNext is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.
The report compares the proportion of students considered “proficient” on the states’ own exam with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The report explains:
Data from both the NAEP and state tests allow for periodic assessments of the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards. If the percentage of students identified as proficient in any given year is essentially the same for both the NAEP and the state exams, we can infer that the state has established as strict a proficiency standard as that of the NAEP. But if the state identifies a higher percentage of students as proficient than the NAEP, we can conclude that the state has set its proficiency bar lower than that of the NAEP.
From 2003 to 2013 the Kansas standards were weak, earning letter grades ranging from “C” to “D” in the EducationNext reports. In another similar study, the Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales series from National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas standards were also found to be low compared to other states. NCES is part of the United States Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It has not yet examined the 2015 NAEP and state exam scores.
Now, after comparing Kansas state assessments to the 2015 NAEP exam, Kansas earns a grade of “A” from EducationNext for the strength of its standards.
This grade of “A” does not reflect the performance of Kansas schoolchildren on tests. Instead, it means that the state has raised the definition of “proficient” to a higher level. A presentation by Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explains the relationship of the new standards to the former:
The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards. The Mathematics test is more demanding than even the ACT and taken a year earlier. The assessment is also more demanding than the NAEP assessment. Kansas takes seriously the current issues of college dropout and remediation rates and feels higher standards are necessary to help remedy the problem.
Kansas is not alone in making a change:
The results are striking: The last two years have witnessed the largest jump in state standards since they were established as part of the federal accountability program. Overall, 36 states have strengthened their standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged. In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.
This is a refreshing change for Kansas. It means that after many years of evaluating students with weak standards and low expectations, Kansas now has reasonable standards.
The Kansas public school establishment is proud of Kansas schools. In a joint statement released at the start of this year’s legislative session, satisfaction with schools is evident: “Our Kansas public schools are great. … The results are there. Working with parents and communities, Kansas schools rank in the top ten nationally on every measure on reading and math tests, high school completion and college preparation.”
According to National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas does have a high percentage of students that graduate from high school. But this is the only bright spot for Kansas students. In many other measures Kansas is near the middle of the states, and in some cases much below the middle.
In the recent report Quality Counts by Education Week, Kansas ranked twentieth overall among the states.
For last year’s ACT scores, Kansas ranked twenty-first in composite score. Kansas ranked twentieth in readiness for college in English, and twentieth also for math readiness.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” reveals the unfortunate weakness in Kansas schools. NAEP is a test that is the same in all jurisdictions. Consider fourth grade math, looking at the percent of students who score “proficient” or better. For all students, Kansas ranks twenty-second, a little above the middle. But when we look at subgroups, something else appears. For black students Kansas ranks thirty-eighth, for Hispanic students the rank is thirty-fourth, and for white students the rank is twenty-ninth. Similar patterns exist for math and reading in grades four and eight. The highest Kansas ranks in any subgroup is fifteenth for grade eight math for Hispanic students. (Click here for a pdf version of these rankings. An interactive visualization of these scores is here.)
When comparing Kansas NAEP scores to the national average, using appropriate subgroups, we find that often Kansas underperforms the national average. The reason for this anomaly is Simpson’s Paradox, in which aggregated data hides differences between subgroups. Given that white students across the nation score higher than black or Hispanic students, and that Kansas has a high proportion of white students compared to the nation and many states, Simpson’s Paradox makes Kansas NAEP scores — only when considering all students — appear high. But if you are a parent with young black children learning to read, would you rather be in Kansas (thirty-seventh in reading for black students, grade four), Louisiana (twenty-fifth), or Colorado (third)?
It’s unfortunate that Kansas does not rank better in all these measures. What’s worse is the insistence that Kansas schoolchildren are doing well. Notwithstanding this evidence, after listing all the ways Kansas schools and teachers work to make school great, the joint statement says “This is how the Kansas school system operates. We are good at.”
But it isn’t good for Kansas schoolchildren to be in a system that does not recognize the truth.
There’s no reason that education must be provided by government, and many reasons to keep government out of education. Across the spectrum of human activity, government provides services at high cost, with low levels of diversity and innovation, and with low accountability. School choice programs allow parents and children to find alternative non-governmental sources of education (although charter schools are public schools).
Defenders of public schools over school choice programs note that parents do have choice. Parents can, they say, enroll their children in private schools. But these parents still must pay for the public schools, which severely reduces their ability to pay private school tuition. That isn’t much choice. And for parents in poor neighborhoods, such as Wichita’s zip code 67214 where the median family income is $29,637, there isn’t much money available for private school tuition, or to move their households to suburban school districts. The latter is a form of school choice available to middle-class and wealthy parents that isn’t available to low-income families.
Across the country 393,467 students participate in school choice programs, in this case defined as vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or education savings accounts. 1 There are around 49 million students in public schools. So for every one student in these school choice programs, 125 students remain in public schools.
Despite the small number of students enrolled in school choice programs, the anti-choice establishment vigorously fights against any school choice program, even the small Kansas tax credit scholarship program. Kansas State Department of Education reports that since the beginning of the scholarship program, there have been 73 students awarded scholarships which totaled $108,384. 2
Seventy-three students. $108,384. The public school establishment describes this as a grave threat, something that drains public schools of funds. For a bit of context, there are executives of Kansas Association of School Boards and Kansas National Education Association that earn more than $108,384 per year. These executives earn these salaries, in part, by blocking the type of school choice programs that benefit children living in Wichita’s zip code 67214 with its median family income of $29,637.
Why is the public school establishment so firmly against school choice? Private schools don’t pay dues to the Kansas Association of School Boards. Teachers not in traditional public schools are not members of Kansas National Education Association, the teachers union. Without this revenue, it might be difficult to pay the high salaries of KASB and KNEA executives and staff.
But there’s more. The ideological bent of these groups is for more government, more taxes, more government spending, and more governmental control over the people of Kansas. Consider this sentence from the joint statement: “Now, we turn our attention this week to the Statehouse in Topeka where the Legislature is gathering to consider how to provide for the people of Kansas.” (emphasis added)
In a nutshell, there is the paternalistic governing philosophy of our state’s public school establishment: Government provides for us.
The Wichita ASR water project produced little water in December. There were 31 days when river flow was adequate.
An important part of Wichita’s water supply infrastructure is the Aquifer Storage and Recovery program, or ASR. This is a program whereby water is taken from the Little Arkansas River, treated, and injected in the Equus Beds aquifer. That water is then available in the future as is other Equus Beds water.
With a cost so far of $247 million, the city believes that ASR is a proven technology that will provide water and drought protection for many years. In 2014 the city recommended that voters approve $250 million for its expansion, to be paid for by a sales tax. Voters rejected the tax in the November 2014 election.
December 2015 production
In December 2015, the ASR project recharged 19,138,651 gallons of water. The design capacity for ASR is 30,000,000 gallons per day, so production for the entire month of December is less than one day’s design capacity.
The ASR project is able to draw from the Little Arkansas River when the flow is above 30 cfs. As can be seen in the chart of the flow of the river, the flow was above this level every day. There were 31 days in December when there was adequate river flow for ASR to operate, counting only those days when the flow was above 30 cfs for the entire day.
ASR project background and production
According to city documents, the original capacity of the ASR phase II project to process water and pump it into the ground (the “recharge” process) was given as “Expected volume: 30 MGD for 120 days.” That translates to 3,600,000,000 (3.6 billion or 3,600 million) gallons per year. ASR phase II was completed in 2011.
At a city council workshop in April 2014, Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King briefed the council on the history of ASR, mentioning the original belief that ASR would recharge 11,000 acre feet of water per year. But he gave a new estimate for production, telling the council that “What we’re finding is, we’re thinking we’re going to actually get 5,800 acre feet. Somewhere close to half of the original estimates.” The new estimate translates to 1,889,935,800 (1.9 billion) gallons per year.
Based on experience, the city has produced a revised estimate of ASR production capability. What has been the actual experience of ASR? The U.S. Geological Survey has ASR figures available here. I’ve gathered the data and performed an analysis. (Click charts for larger versions.)
I’ve produced a chart of the cumulative production of the Wichita ASR project compared with the original projections and the lower revised projections. The lines for projections rise smoothly, although it is expected that actual production is not smooth. The second phase of ASR was completed sometime in 2011, but no water was produced and recharged that year. Further, 2013 was a drought year, so to present ASR in the best possible light, I’ve prepared a chart starting in July 2013. That was when it started raining heavily, and data from USGS shows that the flow in the Little Arkansas River was much greater. Still, the ASR project is not keeping up with projections, even after goals were lowered.
On the chart of monthly production, the horizontal line represents the revised annual production projection expressed as a constant amount each month. This even rate of production is not likely, as river flow varies. In the three years that ASR phase II has been in production, that monthly target been exceeded in three months.
Two nearby charts give an idea of the efficiency of operation of the ASR project. (Click charts for larger versions.) For each month, I counted how many days had a river flow above 30 cfs at every measurement for the day. (The flow is measured several dozen times a day.) If a day had all measurements above 30 cfs, I counted that as a day of adequate river flow. I then calculated the number of days of work actually accomplished using the water produced each month, the number of days of adequate river flow for the month, and the ASR design capacity.
As can be seen in the charts, the ASR project is operating far below its design goal. So far the city has not been able to provide an explanation as to why this project is not meeting its goals.
When tweeting about the legislature, most writers will use the hashtag #ksleg. To see these tweets, search for that. You don’t need a twitter account; just browse to twitter.com and use the search feature. To get the most results, click “Live” from the menu that appears.
Advocacy groups and lobbyists
Advocacy groups often create and publish much material about the legislature and Kansas government. Often these groups have an ideological stance that may color or influence their material. Some of these groups may report on the daily activity at the Capitol that affects their area of interest. Some leading examples:
Some lobbyists and organizations publish material that may be helpful. Examples include League of Kansas Municipalities and
the law firm Foulston Siefkin with its weekly newsletter Kansas Legislative Insights (available on this page).
Many legislators maintain an active presence online. It may be through an active website, email newsletters, Facebook pages, or Twitter feeds. Probably the best way to find these outlets for legislators is to use Google or your favorite search engine. Examples include Amanda Grosserode (sample newsletter here) and Stephanie Clayton (Facebook page here, Twitter feed here).