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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kansas Schools, Victims of Bad Tax Policy

From The New York Times

By The Editorial Board
June 2, 2016

The grand myth of modern Republican politics — the trickle-down theory that sweeping tax cuts generate rising revenues — has come crashing down in Kansas.

Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas’ Republican Legislature have
short-changed the state’s public school budgets.
Credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

An exuberant Governor Sam Brownback enacted the largest tax cuts in the state’s history in 2012 and 2013, a $1.1 billion upper-bracket boon for which he promised rich economic returns. But the governor and the Republican Legislature were soon shortchanging the state’s public school budgets in compensation.

Per-pupil state aid has declined from $4,400 to $3,800 during the Brownback years. That has forced reductions in staffing, classes and school days in the more poorly financed districts.


It has also fueled the current crisis in which the public school system faces a shutdown on July 1, imposed by the State Supreme Court, unless the state government restores some of the equity it sacrificed in pursuing the trickle-down myth.

Even some Republican supporters of Mr. Brownback, finding their schoolchildren threatened by declining standards, are calling for the reversal of some of the tax cuts. They shouldn’t expect a positive response.

The governor and the Legislature have rebuffed and evaded rulings from the State Supreme Court, which found that the Legislature had violated the State Constitution’s clear requirement that it provide fair and adequate support for all school districts, including impoverished ones with less property tax revenues.

Instead of abiding by the court’s mandate, Mr. Brownback and the lawmakers insisted they know better than the courts on how to fund the schools, making sure not to harm the budgets of richer districts.

During an earlier round of the court fight last year, Mr. Brownback and his allies enacted a retaliatory measure that threatens to strip the court system of its funding. This was a despicable low, particularly for conservative politicians promoting themselves as strict constitutionalists. Now they’re denouncing “activist” judges and working to replace the justices.

Fortunately for Kansas, the court held fast, ruling last Friday that the latest attempt to fix the problem — a change in funding formulas to a block grant system — would create “intolerable, and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”

At issue are the disparities in funding suffered by the poorest districts, four of which sued in 2010 and won their case. More money is needed from the state, perhaps $40 million to keep the schools open in the short run, according to some estimates.

The larger question, which the court promises to answer at a later date, is whether the state has provided for enough total revenue to sustain a fairly funded public system.

Some Republicans already are threatening to continue their defiance of the court, accusing the judges of “holding children hostage.” The governor accused the court of “political brinksmanship.” But after growing protest over continuing cuts last year, he made sure there were no new ones this year.

The court remains focused on the July 1 deadline, noting that “political necessities” were not relevant to its work and neither is the success or failure of the Republicans’ gamble on trickle-down policies.

“Simply put,” the court ruled, “The Legislature’s unconstitutional enactment is void; it has not performed its duty.”

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