Kansas school standards remain high

Kansas school assessment standards remain at a high level, compared to other states. This is a welcome change from the past.

To evaluate the performance of their schools and students, states have their own assessments or tests. Some states have rigorous standards, meaning that to be considered “proficient,” students must perform at a high level.

But some states are less rigorous. They rate students “proficient” at a much lower level of performance.

How can we tell which states have high standards, and which states have low standards? There is a test that is the same in all states, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), administers this test every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.” 1

By comparing scores on NAEP and a state’s own tests, we can learn about the state’s standards. Does a state have a large percentage of students score “proficient” on its own test, but have a much lower percentage score “proficient” on the NAEP? If so, that state’s standards are weak.

After NAEP scores are released, Education Next, a project of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, compares state and NAEP results and assigns letter grades to each state. 2

It’s important to know that this analysis does not tell us how well a state’s students perform on any tests, either state tests or NAEP. Education Next emphasizes:

To be clear, high proficiency standards do not necessarily reflect high student performance. Rather, good grades suggest that states are setting a high proficiency bar — that students must perform at a high level to be deemed proficient in a given subject at their grade level. Grades gauge “truth in advertising” by indicating the degree to which states inform parents of how well their students are doing on an internationally accepted scale. 3

Kansas

The good news is that Kansas grades well in the analysis of its state proficiency standards for 2017, earning an overall grade of A (A in grade 4 math, B+ in grade 4 reading, and A in both grade 8 math and reading). This is the sixth highest score among the states and means Kansas assessments have a high degree of “truth in advertising.” These grades are nearly unchanged from 2015.

This high grade has not always been the case for Kansas, however. In 2013 the state received a grade of D+ and ranked forty-first. That was a little better than 2011, when the grade was D and rank was forth-forth.

Does this mean Kansas students are doing better on tests? No. NAEP scores are mostly unchanged, or changed very little. Instead, between 2013 and 2015 Kansas adopted more realistic and rigorous standards for its tests. It raised the bar for what students needed to know to be called “proficient.”

Here is an example of how low a bar Kansas once set: In 2009, 87.2 percent of Kansas students were judged “proficient” on state tests in grade 4 reading. But only 35.1 percent were judged “proficient” on the NAEP. For that year the average difference between “Kansas proficient” and “NAEP proficient” was 45 percentage points.

Despite this large difference, Kansans were being told the state’s schools are doing very well. In 2012, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “Kansans are proud of the quality of their public schools, and a steady and continuing increase in student performance over the past decade has given us ample reason for that pride.” (Diane DeBacker: Pride in Kansas public schools is well-placed, March 20, 2012.)

Bragging like this was common, and it was unfounded. It was a lie, and a harmful lie. Being told our schools are top quality based on state standards, when those standards are very weak, is politically expedient but untruthful, and the case for needed reform is dismissed as unnecessary.


Notes

  1. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  2. “To generate these letter grades, we compare the percentage of students identified as proficient in reading and math on state assessments to the percentage of students so labeled on the more-rigorous NAEP. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP is widely considered to have a high bar for proficiency in math and reading. Because representative samples of students in every state take the same set of examinations, NAEP provides a robust common metric for gauging student performance across the nation and for evaluating the strength of state-level measures of proficiency.”
    Education Next. Have States Maintained High Expectations for Student Performance? Available at http://educationnext.org/have-states-maintained-high-expectations-student-performance-analysis-2017-proficiency-standards/.
  3. Education Next. After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards. Summer 2016. Available at http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/.

Wichita in ‘Best Cities for Jobs 2018’

Wichita continues to decline in economic vitality, compared to other areas.

NewGeography.com is a joint venture of Joel Kotkin and Praxis Strategy Group. Its annual “Best Cities for Jobs” project ranks metropolitan areas according to growth in employment.

Of 422 metropolitan areas considered, Wichita ranked 383, dropping 28 spots since the previous year.

Among 100 medium size metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 93, dropping 5 spots from the previous year.

NewGeography.com uses employment data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from November 2006 to January 2018. 1 Last year’s publication contains a more detailed explanation of how the rankings capture current year-growth, mid-term growth, and momentum. 2

In the analysis for 2017, Wichita had also fallen in ranking.

Wichita has momentum, they say

Despite this news, Wichita leaders are in denial. Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 3

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 4

in March Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 5 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”

At the same time, the Wichita Eagle editorialized: “Wichita’s economy struggled to rebound from the last recession, which held the city back. But there have been positive economic signs of late, including a renewed focus on innovation and regional cooperation. … There also is a sense of momentum about Wichita. Yes, challenges remain, but the city seems to have turned a corner, with even greater things ahead.”6

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 7

Given all this, it ought to be easy to find economic data supporting momentum, progress, and growth. Besides the NewGeography.com report cited above, let’s look at some other indicators.

Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from the 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 8

Personal Income Summary, Wichita, through 2016. Click for larger.

Population. In 2000 Wichita was the 80th largest metropolitan area. In 2017 its ranking had fallen to 89. See Wichita metropolitan area population in context for more on this topic.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Downtown Wichita. There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Wichita, both public and private. But since 2008 the trend is fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. Almost every year these numbers are lower than the year before. This is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising, but business activity is declining. 9

Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation. First, the good news: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.9 percent in March 2018, down from 4.2 percent in March 2017. The number of unemployed persons declined by 8.3 percent for the same period. 10

Is Wichita’s declining unemployment rate good news, or a byproduct of something else? The unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 3,367 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,056. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.

A further indication of the health of the Wichita-area economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This number declined by 1,200 from March 2017 to March 2018, a decline of 0.4 percent. This follows a decline of 0.7 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.

Of the metropolitan areas in the United States, BLS reports that 308 had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 72 (including Wichita) had decreases, and 8 had no change.

Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 11

Wichita MSA employment, annual change. Click for larger.
The GDP figures are for 2016, and figures for 2017 won’t be available until September. So what happened in 2017? Could 2017 be the genesis of momentum to drive our economy forward?

While GDP figures aren’t available, jobs numbers are. For the year 2016, total nonfarm employment in the Wichita metropolitan area grew by 0.62 percent. For 2017, the growth rate was 0.56 percent — a slowdown in the rate of job growth. These job growth figures are far below the rate for the nation, which were 1.79 and 1.58 percent respectively.

Annual change in job growth, Wichita and USA through 2017. Click for larger.

Furthermore, Wichita’s job growth rate in 2016 was lower than 2015’s rate of 1.07 percent. This is momentum in the wrong direction. Nearby charts illustrate. 12

What to do?

The failure of the Wichita-area economy to thrive is a tragedy. This is compounded by Wichita leaders failing to acknowledge this, at least publicly. While we expect people like the mayor, council members, and the chamber of commerce to be cheerleaders for our city, we must wonder: Do these people know the economic statistics, or do they choose to ignore or disbelieve them?

From private conversations with some of these leaders and others, I think it’s a mix of both. Some are simply uninformed, while others are deliberately distorting the truth about the Wichita economy for political or personal gain. The people who are uninformed or misinformed can be educated, but the liars are beyond rehabilitation and should be replaced.


Notes

  1. “The methodology for our 2018 ranking largely corresponds to that used in previous years. We seek to measure the robustness of metro areas’ growth both recently and over time, with some minor corrections to mitigate the volatility that the Great Recession has introduced into the earlier parts of the time series. The ranking is based on three-month rolling averages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ‘state and area’ unadjusted employment data reported from November 2006 to January 2018.” 2018 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005973-2018-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  2. 2017 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005618-2017-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth.
  3. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  4. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  5. David Dennis. Sedgwick County part of drive to strengthen area workforce. Wichita Eagle, March 5, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article203559734.html.
  6. Wichita is moving forward. March 1, 2018. Available at http://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article135573253.html.
  7. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita personal income up, a little. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-personal-income-up-2016/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  11. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  12. In some presentations these figures may differ slightly due to data revisions and methods of aggregation. These differences are small and not material.

What is the real problem at Wichita Southeast?

There is likely a different explanation for problems at a Wichita high schools from what we’ve been told by the school district and our newspaper.

Recently the Wichita Eagle editorial board opined about problems with Wichita Southeast High School. That editorial was based on Eagle reporting in the article The new Southeast High is bigger and better. So why is its graduation rate dropping?

Sociologist Chase Billingham offers commentary and insight in his piece Southeast’s grad rate more about discipline:

The Wichita school district officials and The Eagle Editorial Board said the slipping graduation rate was partially attributable to the relocation of Southeast from its previous location to a new building at the far eastern edge of Wichita. According to these claims, students needing bus service when they could once walk to school have resulted in declining attendance, which in turn has led to the low graduation rate.

The falling graduation rate is real, and it is troubling. However, it was not caused by the school’s relocation.

Billingham proceeds to cite statistics from the Kansas State Department of Education and concludes, “Rather, it is more likely that the school has become more strict in applying formal disciplinary sanctions to student behavioral problems that may previously have resulted in informal reprimands.”

I wonder if school district officials knew of these statistics. They should have, as those officials compile and report them to KSDE. I also winder if Eagle reporters and editorial writers looked into this.

(By the way, the Eagle doesn’t disclose the membership of its editorial board.)

This episode is another troubling revelation about Wichita schools since the departure of the oft-praised and rewarded superintendent John Allison. Today the Eagle editorial board wrote, “Hiring Thompson as superintendent proved to be a good move at a time when Wichita schools were languishing — poor teacher morale, stagnant student achievement results and a district in need of a spark.”

From Pachyderm: Kansas Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Kansas Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer, who is also Candidate for Kansas Governor. This is part of a series in which all major Republican candidates will speak. Recorded May 18, 2018.

Shownotes

Kansas employment

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released this week: More jobs, fewer unemployed persons, and a smaller labor force compared to one year ago.

Click for larger.

For the last three months, using seasonally adjusted figures, there are more jobs, fewer unemployed persons, and a shrinking labor force.

Click for larger.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Governor Dr. Jeff Colyer is a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for Kansas Governor. He joins Bob and Karl to make the case as to why he should continue to be our governor. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 197, broadcast May 19, 2018.

This is part of a series of appearances by gubernatorial candidates for 2018. We hope that all major candidates, of all parties as well as independents, will accept our invitation. The filing deadline is June 1, the primary election is August 7, and the general election is November 6.

Shownotes

Personal income in Kansas and Wichita

Personal income in Wichita and Kansas has declined.

Today the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, released real personal income for the states and metropolitan areas. 1 The data released today is through the complete year 2016.

Real Personal Income for States, 2016. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Click for larger.
For the state of Kansas, real personal income declined from $137,975 million in 2015 to $137,307 in 2016, a decline of 0.5 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 1.1 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-fifth in magnitude of change.

For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, real personal income declined from $30,913 million in 2015 to $30,747 in 2016, also a decline of 0.5 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 337th in magnitude of change.

Looking at per capita figures, real personal income per capita in Kansas fell from $47,483 in 2015 to $47,221 in 2016, a decline of 0.6 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 0.4 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-third in magnitude of change.

Real personal income per capita in the Wichita metropolitan statistical area fell from $48,076 in 2015 to $47,694 in 2016, a decline of 0.8 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 325th in magnitude of change.

“Real” means that the values are expressed in a way that recognizes the effects of inflation. In this case the values are in “millions of chained (2009) dollars.” Additionally, BEA uses regional price data to measure and account for the effects of regional inflation.

BEA offers this definition: “Real state personal income is a state’s current-dollar personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index.” 2 Metro personal income is defined similarly.

Personal income, also from BEA, is “The income received by, or on behalf of, all persons from all sources: from participation as laborers in production, from owning a home or business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfers. It includes income from domestic sources as well as the rest of world. It does not include realized or unrealized capital gains or losses.” 3


Notes

  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2016. Available at https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/rpp/2018/pdf/rpp0518.pdf.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

State and local government employee and payroll

Considering all government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Each year the United States Census Bureau surveys federal, state, and local government civilian employees. I’ve gathered this data and present it in an interactive visualization using several views and supplementary calculations. 1

The Census Bureau collects both counts of employees and payroll dollars. Comparisons based on the number of employees are useful, bypassing issues such as differing costs of living and salaries in general.

Considering all government employees, Kansas has 68.35 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents. Only two states and the District of Columbia have more.

For total elementary and secondary education employment, Kansas has 30.64 such employees (full-time equivalent) per thousand residents. Only two states have more.

Click here to learn more about the visualization and to use it yourself.

In this example from the visualization showing Kansas and nearby states, Kansas stands out. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. For details and to access the visualization, see here: https://wichitaliberty.org/visualization-state-and-local-government-employment/.

Does School Choice Kill Public Schools?

Does School Choice Kill Public Schools?
By Lori Graham

Recently, I asked Kris Kobach, candidate for Kansas Governor, if he supports school choice. His answer was “Yes,” and he gave an idea of how that would work. The liberal media pounced on his idea and twisted his answer in a way that perpetuates the fear that allowing parents to choose what is best for their child’s education will kill the public school system. Conservatives and liberals alike are fearful about this, but will it really kill the public schools?

To answer this, we need to first look at the problem. The real problem of meeting the needs of every student so that they achieve their potential. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has a new program called “Kansans Can – Kansas leads the world in the success of EVERY student.” This is a lofty goal, because it is a fact that the public schools will never meet every need for every student even with all the money in the world. In 2017, only 34% of the students had an “effective” or better understanding of Math, Science and English skills to enter the workforce. This is a frightening statistic and knowing that all of the additional funding each year over the last 10 years, which has reached record levels, still has not improved student success.

When we speak about “School Choice,” it means we focus the educational dollars on every student in the state of Kansas. I would think this is what the KSDE means with their Kansans Can program. If neighborhood schools are not meeting the needs of their children, parents should be able to select a different school that does meet their needs. Right now, that right only belongs to the wealthy or the very poor. Those in the middle are stuck with their government assigned-school, and only one-third of the students succeeding proves this is a flawed method of educating the next generation.

There are many different models of school choice around the country. Kris Kobach’s idea of grading each school building sounds logical on the surface and uses current Kansas state tests to do so. What he proposed is that schools with test score improvement from year to year will get pay increases for the staff, and those that fail will give vouchers to the students to choose another option. While the performance-based initiative is a good start, it only meets the needs of children of failing schools. What about the other students that may be in a good school, but their needs are not being met? In addition, this puts more focus on the testing that has proven to be a failure with No Child Left Behind and other legislation.

The best school choice option is for every parent/guardian to choose the best school to meet the needs of their child. This solution is great for public schools, great for teachers, great for students, and great for the Kansas economy. The best system for students is the best system for everyone. When our students get their individual needs met, whether he is high-achieving where challenging work is best or he is special-needs and focused therapies are best, our teachers will be able to actually teach, have more opportunities, and thus better pay; our schools will be less taxed with the overbearing challenge of meeting so many different problems our children face; and our economy will be strengthened with better prepared graduates and growth.

In states that have enacted school choice for all students, the public schools are flourishing! The free-market system encouraged new schools to pop up to meet the full spectrum of student needs, from autism to college-prep. Not all students will flock to the new schools, because public schools still have a lot to offer. The value of attending school with your neighbors, great sports, and great teachers will still appeal to the majority of parents.

What it does mean is that public schools will be required to focus on the students, not the administrator’s salary. The teachers and staff will need to be paid better so schools have the best teachers. The student’s parents will be the judge of their child’s success instead of the government tests. Teachers and administrators alike will be encouraged to work with the parent to ensure the success of the student. My experience as a public school employee and as a public school parent was that teachers only speak to parents for less than 10 minutes, twice per year, as required, at Parent-Teacher Conferences. This might work for a few students, but it certainly doesn’t work for the majority.

If the parents prefer their child not sit through the social engineering classes that teach values in conflict with their own, they will now have the opportunity to go elsewhere. If the school is great, but the environment is a problem with the student like drugs or bullying, the parent will be able to move the student to a new environment. If the child is struggling with new teaching methods like Common Core, the parent can move he/she to a more classical learning option.

Until every parent is allowed to choose what is best for their child, our student success will be sub-par, the funding will continue to go through the roof, and our children will be sacrificed in the process. School choice for all students levels the playing field for poor, rich and middle-income students alike. As soon as conservatives and liberals stop arguing long enough to learn about the proven benefits of school choice, our children, every child, will finally get the education they so deserve and our public school system will also thrive.

Lawrence has it. Wichita doesn’t.

Despite promises, Wichita fails to inform citizens on important activities of its government.

For several years, the Kansas city of Lawrence has published an economic development report letting citizens know about the activities of the city in this area. The most recent edition may be viewed here.

The Lawrence report contains enough detail and length that an executive summary is provided. This report is the type of information that cities should be providing, but the City of Wichita does not do this.

Example from the Lawrence report. Click for larger.
It’s not like the City of Wichita does not realize the desirability of providing citizens with information. In fact, Wichitans have been teased with the promise of more information in order to induce them to vote for higher taxes. During the campaign for the one cent per dollar Wichita city sales tax in 2014, a city document promised this information regarding economic development spending if the tax passed: “The process will be transparent, with reports posted online outlining expenditures and expected outcomes.” (This is what Lawrence has been doing for several years.)

The “Yes Wichita” campaign promised, “Reports will be measured and reported publicly.” (But “Yes Wichita” was a campaign group and not an entity whose promises can be relied on, and can’t be held accountable for failure to perform.)

These are good ideas. The city should implement them even though the sales tax did not pass. If it’s good for citizens to have this type of information if the sales tax had passed, it’s good for them to know in any circumstance, because the city (and other overlapping governmental jurisdictions) still spends a lot on economic development.

Why is this information not available? Is the communications staff overwhelmed, with no time to provide this type of information?

During the sales tax campaign Wichita city staff had time to prepare news releases with titles like “City to Compete in Chili Cook-off” and “Jerry Seinfeld Returns to Century II.”

This year the city produces headlines like “Annual Arbor Day Returns Friday” and “Arkansas River Trash Roundup Saturday.”

But if you want to know how much — and how well — the city spends economic development dollars, you won’t find that.

Since the sales tax election in 2014 the city has hired additional communications staff, adding a Strategic Communications Director in 2015. Later that year the economic development staff was boosted with the hiring of an Assistant City Manager and Director of Development.

But no economic development reports.

Wichitans need to know that besides living in a city that doesn’t provide much information about its operations, the city believes it is doing a good job. Here is a Wichita city news release from 2013:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and 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.”

In 2015 the city won another award, with the city reporting: “The City of Wichita has been recognized nationally for leading efforts related to technology, community engagement and transparency.

The official city biography for Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says he has “championed many issues related to improving the community including government accountability, accessibility and transparency.”

When I’ve expressed frustration with the process of asking for information from the city, communications staff told me this: “I should note that the City has won multiple awards for openness and citizen participation, but City leaders recognize this work is never done. They strive each and every day to become more open and transparent and will continue to do so.”

Wichitans need to wonder:

  • Why can’t we have the same information about our city government that residents of Lawrence have?

  • Was transparency promised only to get people to vote for the sales tax in 2014?

  • Does the city believe it deserved the awards it has received?

  • Is transparency really a governing principle of our city?

From Pachyderm: Kris Kobach, Candidate for Kansas Governor

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and Candidate for Kansas Governor. This is part of a series in which all major Republican candidates will speak. Recorded May 11, 2018.

Shownotes

Reestablishing a Fundamental Principle of Democracy

Reestablishing a Fundamental Principle of Democracy
Alan Cobb, Kansas Chamber President & CEO

The words of a recent guest editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World about the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding were not surprising. It was a continuation of the intellectually shallow, fact-short screed about taxes, school finance, and the Kansas budget. Certainly, reasonable people can disagree about these issues, but partisans rarely adhere to that theorem. And thus, I thought I was reading something from a partisan staffer.

Alas, it was from a well-respected Wichita State University professor emeritus who I have known for decades.

I’ve not always agreed with Dr. H. Edward Flentje, but even when I disagreed with him, I found his arguments well-founded and reasonable. Not this time.

Now to the point. Dr. Flentje, probably intentionally, conflates with the 2012 tax cuts with the current and ongoing school finance litigation. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The current litigation was filed around the day the Sam Brownback was elected Governor. To say the focus of the current coalition is part of an effort to maintain those tax cuts is fanciful, to be charitable.

The 15-word clause in the Kansas State Constitution that is the center of all of this was enacted in 1966. It took only a few years for the first lawsuit to be filed, and Kansas has been in court ever since. This is madness. Brownback was not governor when the original litigation was filed some 30 years ago. The Kansas Legislature developed the current finance formula in the early 1990s under the duress of a Shawnee County District Court judge. Sam Brownback would not be governor for another 18 years. To continue to enact Brownback’s name must mean the author simply can’t argue the merits of the issue we currently face. This is disappointing.

Last December, the Kansas Chamber Board of Directors approved the following language to be a part of our 2018 Legislative Agenda:

Support a constitutional amendment for the democratically elected legislature to have exclusive authority to determine funding for schools in an effort to eliminate endless litigation over school funding.

In my role as President and CEO of the Kansas Chamber, I’ve traveled the state visiting business of all sizes. The consistent refrain I hear from business owners and managers is that the constant litigation has diminished the effectiveness of our educational institutions and their ability to prepare Kansas students for post-secondary careers and post-secondary education.

In addition, I’ve had multiple conversations with educators, teachers, superintendents, and building principals; many embarrassed about the constant litigation. They know that Kansas courts are the not the place to set our state’s education policy.

Ultimately this is about the process of how Kansas sets and finances education policy. We are competing not just with our neighboring states, but all 50 states and many countries across the globe. There is a worldwide competition for jobs.

Because we are in a constant struggle regarding how much Kansas spends on K-12 education, we have not had substantive conversations that we should about the effectiveness and efficacy of our education systems and how we properly prepare Kansas students for their lives after high school.

Improving our education systems takes place because of conversations between employers, students, parents, educators and those setting education policy: the legislature, the Governor, local boards of education and the State Board of Education.

These conversations simply cannot take place between all the interested parties mentioned and the state’s judicial branch.

The Chamber’s board of directors and members across the Kansas business community recognize the importance of a well-educated and trained workforce. But they also desire a competitive business climate. The endless litigation over school funding places the state at risk of being able to a balance of a competitive tax climate and providing for the essential services required outside of the K-12 education system.

The framers of our national and state constitutions understood that the power to tax and appropriate funds must be placed in the hands of the legislature-the governing body of the people. The Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding supports a constitutional amendment that will reestablish this fundamental principle of democracy and will end the continuous cycle of litigation.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Gubernatorial Candidate Kris Kobach

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for Kansas Governor. He joins Bob and Karl to make the case as to why he should be our next governor. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 196, broadcast May 12, 2018.

This is part of a series of appearances by gubernatorial candidates for 2018. We hope that all major candidates, of all parties as well as independents, will accept our invitation. The filing deadline is June 1, the primary election is August 7, and the general election is November 6.

Shownotes

Wichita metropolitan area population in context

The growth of population in Wichita compared to other areas.

Several Wichita city officials have noted that the population of the City of Wichita now exceeds that of Cleveland. This, to them, is a point of pride and sign of momentum in Wichita.

It’s true, at least the population facts. For 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population of Wichita as 389,902 and Cleveland as 385,809. From the 2010 census, Wichita’s population was 382,368; Cleveland’s 396,815. 1

That Wichita moved up in population rank is more due to Cleveland losing 11,006 people (2.8 percent loss) while Wichita gained 7,534 people (2.0 percent gain).

Looking only at city population, however, misses the fact that the Cleveland metropolitan statistical area population is 2,058,844 compared to the Wichita MSA at 645,628, a difference of 3.2 times.

For most types of economic and demographic analysis, metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) are preferred to cities proper. The Census Bureau notes: “The general concept of a metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area is that of a core area containing a substantial population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core.” 2

Wichita officials usually recognize this and have started to emphasize the importance of the region (the MSA), not just the city. Many of our civic agencies have named or renamed themselves like these examples: Greater Wichita Partnership, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth, Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Wichita Area Planning Organization, Regional Economic Area Partnership of South Central Kansas, South Central Kansas Economic Development District.

Further, there is more economic data available at the MSA level (compared to the city level) from agencies like Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. This data includes important measures like employment, labor force, unemployment rate, gross domestic product, and personal income.

City boundaries are still important, as Wichita, for example, can’t impose property or sales taxes outside the city limits. Nor can it write laws affecting neighboring towns or the county.

But not even schools respect city boundaries, with several large suburban school districts (Andover, Maize, Goddard) reaching far into the city limits of Wichita.

While Wichita may be the 50th largest city, its rank is not as high when considering metropolitan areas. Worse, its rank is slipping as other areas grow at a faster clip. In the 1990 and 2000 census, Wichita was the 80th largest metro area. By 2010 Wichita’s rank had fallen to 82, and for 2017 the rank is 89.

Growth of Wichita MSA population and economy

Wichita officials incessantly talk about momentum. Using a misguided measure of regional size and growth (Wichita is larger than Cleveland!) is one example.

Unfortunately, there are many other examples. Recently Wichita’s mayor spoke of a “thriving city” and that “we’re going to continue our growth pattern.” 3

Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:

From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.

That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 4

In January Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said, “It’s hard to find a time when we’ve had more momentum.” 5

In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 6

But these pictures — thriving, growth, progress, momentum — just aren’t true, according to the best statistical evidence. Wichita is shedding jobs. 7 In 2016 the Wichita economy shrank. 8 Our labor force is declining. 9 Sedgwick County shows a decline in employees and payroll in 2016. 10

Finally, as can be seen in the nearby chart of population growth in the Wichita metro area and a few other examples. Wichita’s growth rate is low, and is slowing. (The other metro areas in the chart are our Visioneering peers plus a few others.)

It is terribly unfortunate that the Wichita economy is not growing. What’s worse is the attitude of our city leaders. If we don’t confront our problems, we probably won’t be able to solve them.

In an interactive visualization I’ve prepared from census data, you can compare growth in metropolitan statistical areas. Click here to access the visualization.

Wichita and other population growth. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More, Ranked by July 1, 2016 Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. Release Date: May 2017
  2. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/metro-micro/about.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob Mayor Longwell’s pep talk. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/politics/mayor-longwells-pep-talk/.
  4. Daniel McCoy. ICT Millennial Summit: Wichita is having a moment. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2017/11/30/ict-millennial-summit-wichita-is-having-a-moment.html.
  5. Heck, Josh. Emerging Leaders panel offers insight into eco-devo strategies. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/01/11/emerging-leaders-panel-offers-insight-into-eco.html.
  6. Bill Wilson. Wichita council member unveils bid for county commission. Wichita Business Journal, November 30, 3017. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/02/13/wichita-council-member-unveils-bid-for-county.html.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita unemployment rate falls. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-unemployment-rate-falls-2018-03/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Why Wichita may not have the workforce. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/why-wichita-may-not-have-the-workforce/.
  10. Weeks, Bob. Business patterns in Kansas counties. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/business-patterns-in-kansas-counties/.

State highways

Kansas has a lot of highway miles compared to its population. Interactive visualization included.

Kansas has nearly 100 lane miles of highway per thousand persons, a value exceeded by only five states, with two of those barely higher than Kansas. This figure is for total lane miles, urban and rural, using data reported by the Federal Highway Administration for 2016. 1

Besides a graphic table of population, total lane miles, and lane miles per thousand persons, there are three scatter plots. These plot each state’s population, area, and population density compared to lane miles.

In each plot, I’ve identified Kansas. (In the interactive visualization you can identify each state.) In all three charts, Kansas is an outlier.

These charts do not include Alaska, California, and Texas. These three states are outliers — Alaska because of its area, and the other two because of their size and high population. In the interactive visualization, of course, you may include these states and exclude any others.

Click here to access and use the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information. Available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics.cfm.

Visualization: Highways in the states

Figures are for total lane miles, urban and rural, using data reported by the Federal Highway Administration for 2016. 1

Besides a graphic table of population, total lane miles, and lane miles per thousand persons, there are three scatter plots. These plot each state’s population, area, and population density compared to lane miles.

Click here to access the visualization at Tableau Public.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information. Available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics.cfm.

The overcriminalization in the charges against Michael O’Donnell

The indictment against Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell smells of overcriminalization.

Former Wichita City Council Member, former Kansas Senator, and present Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell has been charged with a series of serious crimes — serious, at least, in the potential penalties he faces.

First, I know Michael O’Donnell, and although I have been critical of some of his votes in the Kansas Senate and many while a member of the Sedgwick County Commission, I still consider him a friend, and I hope he considers me the same. I have worked on some of his campaigns, sometimes as a volunteer, and sometimes for pay.

In the indictment, counts one through five accuse O’Donnell of wire fraud, because five campaign finance reports filed with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission contained allegedly false and fraudulent information, that being that O’Donnell allegedly converted campaign funds to his personal use. And, the email service used to file the reports routed the data through other states on its way to Topeka. This is described as a scheme to “defraud the State of Kansas, the County of Sedgwick, Kansas, and the citizens thereof.” 1

Counts six through ten accuse O’Donnell of bank fraud, because the banks involved are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Counts eleven and twelve allege money laundering based on the above activity.

Overcriminalization

O’Donnell is being charged with multiple criminal offenses for the same acts. He allegedly converted campaign funds to personal use. That is against the law, and if done more than once, there can be multiple counts. But how this is done (the means of transmission of reports to KGEC) and what type of banks were used (FDIC insured banks) really don’t have anything to do with the underlying bad acts and should not result in additional crimes, at least in this case.

For example, if O’Donnell had used an internet service that sent email with the transmission remaining at all times within the borders of Kansas, then one of the elements of the first five counts would not apply, that he “transmitted by means of wire communications in interstate commerce.” Or, if he had delivered the reports personally, interstate commerce might not apply.

This is the issue of criminal intent. If the allegations in the indictment are true, O’Donnell committed a crime by improperly spending campaign funds and falsely reporting that. The indictment presents evidence of criminal intent in doing these things. But it is unlikely he intended to commit a crime involving interstate commerce. He probably did not know that Google would route his Gmail communications across state lines.

In a similar vein, because the banks involved are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, counts six through ten accuse O’Donnell of bank fraud. But it’s unlikely O’Donnell intended to defraud the banks. The checks he wrote didn’t bounce; there were sufficient funds in the accounts. So it’s very difficult to see how the transactions alleged in the indictment posed any threat to the banks, or by extension, to the federal government through FDIC insurance. Further, if O’Donnell had used state-chartered banks, the second five counts might not apply.

If we want to have campaign finance laws, that’s one thing. If people violate those laws, then charge them with that. But this piling on of charges is a characteristic of overcriminalization, where people are charged with multiple crimes for the same underlying criminal act.

Could the piling on of charges be a bargaining chip to use in future negotiations concerning things O’Donnell may know? In a recent op-ed, prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz quoted a federal judge regarding squeezing a potential witness: “This vernacular is to ‘sing,’ is what prosecutors use. What you got to be careful of is, they may not only sing, they may compose.” 2

Dershowitz continued:

I have been using this “compose” metaphor for decades and I am gratified that a judge borrowed it to express an important civil liberties concern. Every experienced criminal lawyer has seen this phenomenon at work. I have seen it used by prosecutors who threaten wives, parents, siblings and, in one case, the innocent son of a potential witness who was about to graduate law school. Most judges, many of whom were former prosecutors, have also seen it. But few have the courage to expose it publicly, as Ellis has done.

Defenders of Mueller’s tactic argue that the threatened witnesses and their relatives are generally guilty of some crime, or else they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the prosecutor’s threats. This may be true, but the crimes they are threatened to be charged with are often highly technical, elastic charges that are brought only as leverage. They are dropped as soon as the witness cooperates.

Is this what is happening to Michael O’Donnell? Will the piling on of multiple felony charges carrying multi-year prison terms be dropped if O’Donnell cooperates in criminal prosecutions against other people?

If anything, these alleged acts might constitute fraud committed against campaign donors. It’s difficult to see how the average person would care how candidates spend their campaign funds. Citizens may be concerned with who gives and how much they give, and if a candidate converts these campaign contributions to personal use, it opens the door to corruption. But the people really harmed are the donors who gave funds expecting to help O’Donnell win an election, not pay his personal expenses. (Unless the donors gave with such an understanding in place, and that is not legal.)

As an aside, O’Donnell’s political opponents ought not to be so concerned, although currently they are overjoyed at his situation. If a candidate converts funds to personal use — away from campaign activity like advertisements, mailings, and yard signs — that seems to make the candidate less likely to win. Candidates and their supporters should hope their opponents spend campaign funds unwisely.


Notes

  1. United States Attorney’s office for the District of Kansas. Federal Fraud Charges Filed Against County Commissioner O’Donnell. Available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-ks/pr/federal-fraud-charges-filed-against-county-commissioner-o-donnell. Also see the indictment, available here.
  2. Alan Dershowitz. Federal judge rightly rebukes Mueller for questionable tactics. The Hill, May 7, 2018. Available at http://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/386508-federal-judge-rightly-rebukes-mueller-for-questionable-tactics.

Kansas gross domestic product

Click for larger.

The interactive chart is available from FRED (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis) here.

Sources:

  • U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Total Gross Domestic Product for Kansas [KSRGSP], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/KSRGSP, May 6, 2018.
  • U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Real Gross Domestic Product [GDPCA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GDPCA, May 6, 2018.

From Pachyderm: Ken Selzer, Candidate for Kansas Governor

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Ken Selzer, Kansas Insurance Commissioner and candidate for Kansas Governor. This is part of a series in which all major Republican candidates will speak. Recorded May 4, 2018.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Congressman Ron Estes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Representative Ron Estes discusses trade, FAA reauthorization and his amendment, entitlement reform, and spending. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 195, broadcast May 5, 2018.

Shownotes

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas

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