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Kansas' Red Dawn
Sam Brownback's Red Revolution Lives to Fight Another Day

Deep-red politics are gaining a foothold in North Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin, but few states have taken things as far as Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback and the Republican majority in the legislature have pushed through a number of conservative reforms. Few have been more controversial than the decision to cut 16.5 percent of state spending on K-12 education. A number of parents and schools challenged it in court, arguing that the paltry sums spent on education violate the state constitution’s provision that the state will “provide for the education” of all of its residents. Last year, a trial court mandated that the state increase funding by $400 million, and the Governor appealed the ruling to the state supreme court.

Late last week, the court finally made a decision, but it wasn’t quite the bombshell that many were expecting. Although it did rule that the state needed to even the spending levels in districts throughout the state, it punted on the bigger question of whether the state was spending too little on education. It merely asked the lower court to reconsider its ruling while casting some doubt upon the notion that courts can mandate that a state spend a specific amount on its students. The NYT:

“Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.

Mr. Brownback and his fellow Republicans who are legislative leaders cast that point as a victory during a news conference at the Capitol on Friday afternoon. “It says schools should be measured by performance and outcomes, not by just money spent,” Mr. Brownback said. “It focuses on equity — that a child in the poorer part of the state should have an equal opportunity at an education as someone from the richer part of the state, and I agree.”

This isn’t quite a victory for Sam Brownback. It’s entirely possible that the lower court’s new ruling will look very similar to the last one. Nonetheless, it’s a good sign that much of Brownback’s reforms will go through, and the court’s statement that per-student spending is not the best barometer of education jibes well with Brownback’s outlook on education policy. For those looking to measure the impact of deep-red education policy, Kansas is still one of the best places to look.

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  • Anthony

    Gosh, I wasn’t aware that there was that much fat to cut in Kansas.

    • El Gringo

      The poorer counties in the west that have the most to lose are vehemently Tea Party while the rich counties in the east that trend blue have so much money they can afford not to care.

      • Bart Hall

        Not quite. You’re correct about western counties, but there are now only two reliably Democrat counties in the east — Douglas (Lawrence and the University of Kansas) and Wyandotte (rather “ethnic” shall we say). Johnson Country where I farm for a living is rather wealthy and *used* to vote Democrat. In 2008 the Donk Housemember (KS-3) won by double digits. In 2010 the Tea Party guy took it by 20 points, and in 2012 he got 68% to the Libertarian’s 31%. Democrats did not even field a candidate. Our state representative is one of the most conservative in the Legislature.

  • Bruno_Behrend

    Education can be cut by half and not suffer single lost neuralconnection in one child’s head.

    The amount of waste in administration, lifetime employment protection, and bloated benefits show that education spending is for adults, not children.

    • free_agent

      The grim problem is that it’s the most wasteful spending that has the strongest political backing (otherwise it would have been chopped long ago).

  • free_agent

    This seems to be the first time that TAI has mentioned the Brownback reforms. What is he proposing and why?

  • Boritz

    …”the court’s statement that per-student spending is not the best barometer of education…”

    This concept alone is a major step forward. Budget battles over education are always bitterly contested by the spend-more crowd which pulls out every cliche about education funding and accuses the other side of not caring about the children because they won’t spend more. Once the appropriation they demand is made they are completely satisfied to allow poor performance to continue or further decline.

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