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Kansas school spending advocates: no alternative views welcome

On Monday and Tuesday, the Kansas House Appropriations Committee held hearings, and big topics were Kansas school funding and the Kansas budget. The reaction by school spending advocates to two speakers is illustrative of the highly divisive nature of public school operation and funding in Kansas.

We need to label them school spending advocates — and government schools at that — because it is increasingly apparent that increasing school spending (or avoiding necessary reductions in spending) at the expense of all reason is their goal. Suggestions that schools should operate more efficiently or learn to live with a little less — as many Kansas families and businesses are doing — will result in attacks on the messenger, sometimes unnecessarily personal in nature.

Monday’s education-related testimony started with Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell, followed by former Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins. My reporting of their testimony is at At House Appropriations, Chappell presents Kansas school funding ideas and Corkins testifies on school finance history, recommendations.

An example of the criticism made by government school spending advocates is that of Kathy Cook of Kansas Families for Education. In her newsletter she spoke of “Black Monday in Topeka,” writing “From House Appropriations to the Governor’s press briefing, it was nothing but bad news for our schools and our students. It was the longest drive home, and not without tears for all that is about to be lost for our kids.”

She made personal attacks on both Chappell and Corkins without making substantive criticism about their testimony.

At the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union), the “Under the Dome Today” newsletter carried a heading reading “Walt Chappell, Bob Corkins attack public education.” I heard no such attack from either speaker. They suggested ways that schools could operate differently to save money (Chappell) and to organize their reporting and accounting to better track spending and results (Corkins).

To the Kansas education establishment, evidently, these suggestions represent unwanted meddling in school affairs.

Reacting to the testimony of Chappell and Corkins, one leftist Kansas blog took the committee and its chairman to task for holding “a hearing that was lopsided even by Adolf Eichmann‚Äôs standards.” I was there for the entire afternoon, and after these two spoke, I heard three school district superintendents plea for more funds. Then, topping off the day was chief school spending and taxing advocate Mark Tallman, the lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). There was, believe me, much pleading for more school funding.

Some of the testimony was difficult to listen to. Fred Kaufman, superintendent of the Hays school system, said twice that there is no advocacy group for school administrators. I wonder if he has heard of United School Administrators of Kansas. This organization’s website describes itself as “a statewide ‘umbrella’ organization comprised of members of ten school administrator associations. We represent more than 2,000 individual administrators statewide.”

The backdrop of all this is that the actual decrease in Kansas school funding, when considering all sources of funding, is quite small. As of August — before the governor’s cuts on Monday — estimated Kansas school spending per pupil for the 2009 to 2010 school year, when considering all sources of school revenue, fell by only 0.64%. That’s quite a bit less than one percent. It’s a rounding error, a fluctuation that could also have been caused by events such as, say, a cold winter causing higher utility bills. It’s an event that should have no affect on the ability of the schools to educate children.

The reductions the governor made on Monday will increase the cut that schools will have to absorb. When considering this, it’s important to remember that schools fared much better than many state agencies this year. Schools still have a tremendous amount of money to work with, a fact that schools work hard to hide.

Strong evidence that schools have plenty of money is that fund balances have been increasing. The way that these funds — and we’re talking about nearly $700 million in operating funds, not capital funds — increase their balances is by more money going in than is spent.

The uncovering of the existence of these balances is strongly attacked by school spending advocates. Despite many school administrator’s claims, sunlight and transparency is not their goal.

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8 Comments

  1. T November 25, 2009

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqn1rvv7Fis

    Outgoing NEA General Cousel Bob Chanin explains all..22:50 is priceless admission that the NEA is more concerned with collective bargaining and union power, than student performance and closing achievement gaps.

  2. Wichitator November 25, 2009

    We can expect the government school establishment to continue to claim that “it is for the children.” This is the universal shield to count all of the accountability and performance issues with the Kansas government school structure. How sad.

    When the left uses the “Eichmann” argument to exempt themselves from this issue, I am saddened to see how intellectually feeble spending advocates’ arguments have become. Pathetic ad hominem attacks like this are better left for the eagle’s call in line.

  3. Anonymous November 25, 2009

    Voice for Liberty. I doubt it! Although I do agree with T’s comment on the NEA. As a conservative Republican I find it incredulous that I am being labeled a leftist by this organization because I support schools.

    Walt Chappel is ignorant and has no place to be where he is at.

    Corkins couldn’t destroy the Department of Education as commissioner so he will do it from within the legislature by lobbying. How transparant is he, in that he hesitates to identify the group that he represents. CLEAR needs to be disbanded.
    Sounds like we are back to the old Watergate days. Nixon did our party a disservice by that brand of politics and Reagan brought us back from the brink. Reagan would have never stood for the type of bullying that goes into the brand of conservatism that has unweilded itself in the form of Kansas government. If you wish to be conservative or libertarian why don’t you try living that way day in and day out. What a bunch of idiots.

  4. Anonymous November 25, 2009

    Since you didn’t identify yourself, “Anonymous,” how could you be labeled a leftist by this organization? And if you’ll read carefully, it was a blog, not a person, that was referred to as leftist.

    Like Wichitator said earlier in a comment, the arguments of the public school spending advocates are feeble, and their vitriol when called out on it is sad. It seems they can only respond by hurling insults or focusing on trivialities by who someone works for.

    By the way, you really mean that you support “government schools,” don’t you?

  5. Anonymous @ 4:37 November 25, 2009

    I believe I did identify myself as a conservative republican. Government schools, hardly get a grip. Let me guess you judge government schools because your kids are sent to a private school that is sooooo much better. Let me ask you. How much did that private school education cost for you or your kids? Probably a heck of alot more than what we pay for “gov ment” schools. I may be conservative and a true republican but at least I can see the other side and realize that not all students have a “suga” daddy to pay for private education or happen to live in “wichita”. Adolf Eichmann I am not, but it sure takes one to know one so that makes the Lib’s (libertarians, disguised as republicans) just like their liberal enemies. Can’t stand to have have someone else have a different viewpoint. I am a veteran that served honorably a country that allow “pukes” like the second anonymous and the author of this article to have the ludricous opinions. What happened to the America that I grew up in and the conservative Republicanism that Reagan believed in. Not this cut cut cut so I can keep more of my selfish motives and yes cut cut cut some more. That is not conservatism that’s lunacy

  6. SpentPenny (retired copper) November 29, 2009

    Anonymous @4:37 wrote: “I believe I did identify myself as a conservative republican”

    Well, I could identify myself as a race car driver, too, but that wouldn’t mean I am one. You have completely misunderstood (or misrepresented) Reaganism.

  7. Anonymous November 29, 2009

    I wonder why people object to the term government schools?

    Also, most private schools operate on a budget that’s much smaller than government schools do, when thinking of spending per student.

    Why the vitriol for just pointing out a few facts?

  8. kimpot54 December 18, 2009

    Public education has been on a suicide mission for decades. You can badmouth those of us who have alternative ideas all you want, but it won’t make public schools any better–and neither will more money. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Teachers are our best resource for what’s happening in our schools. Unfortunately, most of them want to keep their jobs, so they remain silent about the lack of decent standards for all students. Public ed officials bad mouth the disproportionate number of poor students they must “educate” and blame them and their bad parents for low test scores. And knowing what I know, because of having teachers in my family, much of the problem with test scores today IS because of students whose families do not value education. However, as is pervasive throughout our country, schools refuse to judge these people who don’t value education. No, they coddle them. The public ed culture says that if you’re poor, it’s ok to lower standards for you, which lowers standards for everyone. Tax credits and/or vouchers WILL happen. It’s only a matter of time. The entrenched bureaucracy can scream for more $ “for the children” all they want. But it’s becoming increasingly clear to educated people that these bureaucrats are much more concerned about their own paychecks than educating children.

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