Answer this multiple-choice question that came directly from a 13-question survey from the organization Americans for Prosperity to candidates for the Kansas Legislature:
Which of the following do you believe most accurately reflects your view of K-12 spending?
A. School districts operate very efficiently and make good use of taxpayer money.
B. School districts are pretty efficient but there might be a little room for improvement.
C. Aggressive, independent efficiency studies should be immediately implemented to identify best practices and find ways to achieve required outcomes at more efficient costs.
The correct answers are (A) or (B), but (C) is an erroneous, loaded question for conservatives that is precisely what AFP was looking for in determining whom to endorse for this week’s primary election.
One such candidate who was wholeheartedly endorsed was state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee. She not only bold-faced (C) as her answer, but she went on to say in boldface type: “Parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they know how much money is being spent in each school and school district.”
This is hogwash.
How much is being spent by local school districts is of public record. Nothing is hidden.
It is the negative attitude toward public schools which is frightening.
This matters, because — unless I am mistaken, which I hope I am — conservatives were likely to take over the state Senate in Tuesday’s primary election. (The election results came in after 913 went to press.)
Even if I am wrong, with drastic tax cuts already in place, K-12 education funding is on the ropes, in order to balance the budget.
Whispering in the ear of legislators is the AFP, the front organization for ultra-conservatives Charles and David Koch of Wichita, with a combined net worth of $50 billion, making them among the wealthiest individuals in America. When they speak, plenty of conservatives listen.
Their attitudes about public education matter, a whole, whole lot.
In the same survey, there was another question regarding K-12 education, but it did not ask for an opinion. Rather, it asked for “facts.”
The question was: How much does the state of Kansas spend on K-12 education, and how has that changed over the last 10 years?
Mary Pilcher-Cook’s answer came right out of the conservative propaganda. She answered, “In the last ten years, from 2001 to 2011, FTE (full-time equivalent) enrollment increased by about 1.8 percent and state spending for education increased about 38 percent…”
Here are the facts, according to the Kansas Association for School Boards:
First, inflation during these 10 years was 30 percent.
Second, over half of the increased operating budgets went for special education and at-risk student support, as well as bilingual programs, vocational education and transportation.
Third, the retirement fund increased from $82 million to $341 million, mostly because the Legislature increased the rate of contributions for school employees, due to past underfunding of KPERS (the retirement fund.)
Fourth, expenditures for construction and improvements of school buildings almost doubled from $511 million to about $937 million, due to local bond issues that were passed by voters.
In other words, any increased expenditures were not wasted. Some was a result of inflation costs, some were mandated, and some were a result of the vote of the people.
Beware AFP and all conservatives who want to slash funding of public schools, Already next year, school districts will receive $562 less per student than they did in 2009. And the Legislature and governor have only just begun cutting.
| Special to The Star