The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

April 15, 2014

Other Views: State’s theatrics

— Conservatives in the Kansas Legislature have taken advantage of a serious problem — inequities in public school funding — to attack teachers and create new problems.

In a deplorable sneak attack, Senate leadership and allies in the House tied the elimination of due process for teachers to crucial elements of school funding. That issue hadn’t been dealt with in the normal committee process. Conservatives rammed it through without caring whether lawmakers were fully informed of the consequences.

Due process hearings — used about 10 times a year in Kansas — protect teachers from arbitrary firings if, say, they run into a conflict with a parent or administrator. It is a condition of teachers’ contracts throughout the state. To deny it represents a major change for the worse in teacher-school relations.

But even before a weekend of late nights and frayed nerves, Kansas lawmakers were in the throes of agony.

They needed to find $129 million to correct unconstitutional school funding inequities. But thanks to a self-inflicted budget crisis with no end in sight, the road to $129 million was paved only with brutal choices. Lawmakers discussed taking the money out of the state’s reserve fund, but those dollars are needed just to keep the lights on in state government. They talked about taking from some educational funds to give to others. At one point, senators were reduced to eyeing the $2 million in the problem gambling fund.

Right now, the budget is balanced only by dipping into reserve funds. If current revenue and spending trends continue, it will go underwater in 2016. After that, a state that is shortchanging its universities and disabled citizens will have to start cutting more deeply; forecasters estimate $962 million in cuts by the 2019 fiscal year.

Kansas already is raiding its highway fund to pay for transportation of school students and even a chunk of the debt service for the recently completed Statehouse reconstruction. Part of the teachers’ pension funds are coming from gambling revenues, in apparent violation of state statute.

This barren landscape is not what Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the Legislature promised when they enacted deep income tax cuts over the last two years. The mantra then was “growth.”

Incredibly, some lawmakers in Missouri want to imitate Kansas’ mistake. A bill sponsored by GOP Sen. Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit and passed by the Senate would eventually cost the state more than $620 million a year, according to legislative researchers.

Kansas lawmakers should stop creating distractions and deal with the reality of their state’s fiscal crisis. And proponents of drastic tax cuts in Missouri should shake off the right-wing think tank nonsense and take a clearheaded look at the debacle taking place across the state line.

—The Kansas City Star

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Opinion
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  • Your View: ‘Right to Farm’ is wrong

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  • Our View.jpg Our View: No need for No. 9

    “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that the people shall be secure in their electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects?”

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