KNEA, the Kansas teachers union: more taxes are needed

The public education spending lobby in Kansas is always looking for more tax dollars.

A recent edition of the Kansas National Education Association newsletter Under the Dome for March 30, 2009 lays out the education spending lobby’s plans.

This group is fearful that an upcoming meeting of the consensus revenue group may produce bad news for Kansas revenue. It’s thought that the state may need to reduce spending or increase taxes.

Spending, according to this newsletter, has “already been cut to the bone.” So the KNEA proposes “adjustments to the revenue stream” as follows:

  • Reject all new tax cuts.
  • Freeze the implementation of current tax cuts that are being phased in.
  • Decouple from particular parts of the federal tax code.
  • Consider modest tax increases.

Which of these approaches does the KNEA prefer? No single measure would be sufficient: “The best approach might be a combination of all of the above.”

KNEA believes that Kansas has a “structural problem” in its tax system. The newsletter explains in length, but the basic problem that KNEA sees is that Kansans are not taxed enough to support all the things KNEA wants to do.

It’s difficult to take the KNEA seriously, but it and its allied organizations such as the Kansas Association of School Boards are powerful lobbies in Topeka. But let’s look at a few things.

Despite the KNEA’s tale of woe, the fact is that spending on public schools in Kansas has been increasing rapidly, much faster than enrollment or inflation. From 2003 to 2009, Kansas general fund spending on public schools increased by 54%. Charts below provide illustration.

School officials don’t like to talk about this, as it is embarrassing for them to have to admit how much funding the schools really have.

Then there’s the school lobby’s constant reminder that we need a quality educational system. We do. But there’s nothing that says these schools have to be all government schools. Private schools and charter schools do very well, usually with far less money than public schools. But the KNEA and its allied organizations do not want the state to share public funds with private schools, forcing many Kansas parents to pay for private schools and public schools.

These non-government schools are rarely unionized. Schools without teachers who belong to unions are not in the KNEA’s interest.

Furthermore, it’s an open question as to how good are Kansas schools. Rising test scores are claimed. But across the country, states have watered down the tests used to measure progress. Is this the case in Kansas? We don’t know, but we do know this: while measures based on the Kansas tests rise, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test for Kansas students remain flat.

We must also remember that the KNEA is a teachers union. Education reformers — and you can almost count President Obama among them — realize that the policies that teachers unions have put in place across the country are universally harmful to schoolchildren. A teachers union, with its narrow interests, is hardly a source we should trust for information about education policy.

Kansas school spending per pupil outpaces inflation

Kansas school state aid per pupil outpaces inflation


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