Friday’s press event held by ACT (Advocates in Communities Team) of South Central Kansas provided an opportunity to learn about disabled Kansans and their families, and the challenges they face from reduced spending by the state.
The stories told at the event and in supplementary materials are compelling. If there is a role for government-provided services to those who can’t help themselves, these are the people.
But a problem that advocates for the disabled face is that the major recipient of Kansas general fund spending — that’s the K through 12 public school spending lobby — has enormous resources at its disposal. And it doesn’t like to share.
Legislators tell me that the budget this year is a battle between the school spending lobby and everyone else. I spoke to several advocates for the disabled, and they assured me that it’s not a battle between these two competing interests. But the schools have, so far, fared very well. Figures I obtained in December from the Kansas State Department of Education indicate that spending, on a per pupil basis, is estimated to drop by 3.43% for the current school year. That’s not a lot, despite the claims of the school spending lobby.
The school lobby is well-funded and the most powerful in the statehouse. The Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) has a political action committee, which spent, according to IRS filings, $344,941 on political activity in 2008. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. KNEA itself has revenue of over $8 million annually, and can afford to pay at least four employees salaries over $100,000.
KNEA’s sister organization — they share a well-paid lobbyist — the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) had revenues of $4,167,025 in 2007. It can afford to pay its executive director $201,927 in salary and benefits in 2007, along with an expense account of $11,331.
In addition, some school districts like Wichita USD 259 employ full-time lobbyists.
The primary purpose of these organizations and lobbyists is to keep the river of taxpayer money flowing to the government schools at the expense of everyone else, including disabled people and taxpayers. Even if a “revenue solution” (that’s a euphemism for a tax increase) is found, schools will be out front arguing that they should get the largest share.
Cuts to schools mean that parents might have to pay for schoolchildren to participate in athletics. It might mean that class sizes grow a little, which is not a bad thing, despite schools’ claims. The school districts that have passed bond issues might consider delaying their building booms a few years.
None of these things seem as important as care for the disabled in Kansas.