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Wichita School Bond: Time Is Not Right

In a Wichita Eagle article Economy now is right to support the school bond, USD 259, the Wichita school district, Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart reminds us of the study prepared by Wichita State University that touts the economic benefit of the previous bond issue. My analysis of this report can be read at Wichita School District Economic Impact. This study has several problems, besides the fact that USD 259 bought and paid for it.

Perhaps the primary problem with this study is that it treats the cost of the bond issue as though it doesn’t exist. The study presents evidence of the benefits of school district spending, but mentions only in passing school district taxation:

An opportunity cost exists for the use of public funds for education. If public funds were not used to provide public education, they would be available for alternative use. Estimating the potential economic impact of alternative uses of these opportunity costs was beyond the scope of this analysis. (Page 6)

Proponents of public spending always conveniently forget the other side of the equation: someone has to pay for public spending, and those dollars are not available for private use.

Mr. Libhart’s argument that the state of Kansas will pay for 25% of the bond issue is true — at least for now. I wouldn’t be surprised if state lawmakers look to unburden themselves from this obligation. This year, the Kansas state budget starts with a huge deficit that must be overcome. For school districts to burden the state with even more spending creates a large problem. Contrary to some what some bond issue supporters have stated, the 25% is not already in a fund, idly waiting for Wichita to claim it. This money will have to be raised in the form of higher taxes or reduced spending. One state senator mentioned that special education might be a place to look for spending cuts to pay for this bond issue aid.

Regarding growth in parts of the city: A recent newspaper article (Projecting school size an inexact science) explained how difficult it is to accurately project growth. Perhaps the school district could better serve the city by developing ways to flexibly adjust school boundaries. The alternative is to build new facilities, which takes time to do and results in costly waste if the guess is wrong.

I realize the district makes the claim that adjusting school boundaries disrupts traditions, etc. This small inconvenience to some families must be weighed against the tremendous cost of building new space, and the waste that is incurred if the guess is wrong.

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