KS, IL govs wreak havoc on education, workers with budget brinkmanship

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By Felix Perez and Amanda Litvinov

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner have been engaging in high-stakes budget brinkmanship for months, and students, their families and communities are paying the price. The latest in a series of negative consequences include the likelihood that schools will be shuttered, educators laid off and core public services cut.

In Illinois, home to the fifth-largest economy in the nation, Rauner’s insistence on going after unions with his “Turnaround Agenda” has forced the state to go without a budget for nearly a year. Rauner, who became a multimillionaire through private equity financing, refuses to sign a budget unless state workers are stripped of their right to bargain benefits and wages and other pre-conditions are met.

According to Illinois Working Together, a coalition of labor, faith and community groups, Rauner’s my-way-or-the-highway stance has hurt residents. “Public colleges and universities statewide have announced layoffs, social service agencies are shutting down, construction projects have stalled, and businesses are owed billions for goods and services provided to the state. Rauner is pushing policies that will lower the quality of life for all Illinoisans, especially those who depend on a weekly paycheck.”

Most recently, Rauner refused to sign a short-term, bipartisan budget passed by the legislature that would fund schools and human services. Meanwhile, Illinois’ credit rating has sunk to near junk status.

If there is no budget by July 1, universities, domestic violence shelters and food stamps will run out of emergency funding to operate. It’s uncertain if schools would be able to start the new school year.

In a blistering editorial, the Chicago Sun-Times took Rauner to task. “You say you want to work with the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass a short-term budget to keep the state on its feet. You say you want to pass a separate bill to fund the public schools. Both worthy goals. But your rhetoric says no such thing. Your rhetoric says you want a fight. It says you cannot be trusted.”

Rauner did not help himself when he made remarks early this month widely panned as offensive, if not racist. Commenting on Chicago’s public schools, the governor said;

When you look objectively at the status of Chicago Public Schools, many of them are inadequate. Many of them are woeful and some are just tragic. Many of them are basically just crumbling prisons. They’re not a place a young person should be educated.

Democrats in the General Assembly want to provide money to Chicago’s public schools to help the district dig out of its financial hole. Rauner repeatedly has dismissed the proposal as a “bailout.”

Meanwhile in Kansas, Governor Brownback and his allies in the legislature are attempting to blame the state Supreme Court for a school funding crisis of their own making.

The court rejected the legislature’s first school funding plan in May. Now, Kansas lawmakers must reconvene for a special session that begins June 23 to craft a more equitable school funding formula. If they fail to meet the court’s June 30 deadline, schools might not re-open in the fall.

Kansas State Capitol Building on a Sunny Day
Kansas State Capitol

While the Governor and his allies attempt to persuade citizens that the Supreme Court is to blame for this funding muddle, recent media polling suggests Kansans strongly disagree.  Parents, educators and public education supporters from both parties have warned for years that the governor’s so-called “march to zero” income taxes and corporate tax giveaways would lead to a moment like this.

Kansas’ revenue shortfalls—currently projected to be $228 million over the next 15 months—are the direct result of income tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy. Those cuts have drained resources for public services including education, and put a heavier burden on hard-working families through other taxes.

Lawmakers must make changes to the portion of the school funding formula that addresses Local Option Budget (LOB), which allows residents to supplement the budget of their own school district. Most of that funding comes through property taxes, which puts wealthier districts at an obvious advantage. Since Gov. Brownback’s block grant funding scheme was enacted in 2015, state aid has been insufficient in reducing the disparity of resources between wealthy and low-income districts.

The LOB accounts for roughly 25 percent of school funding in Kansas.

“During this special legislative session, lawmakers must focus with laser-sharp intensity on one issue and one alone—restoring equity to the LOB,” wrote Kansas NEA Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy Mark Desetti.

“Going forward, in order to restore fiscal stability to the state and to provide for all the services upon which Kansas citizens depend, future legislatures must look to adopting tax policy that is fair to all and provides the revenue necessary to serve the people.”

Kansas-NEA reports that educators are reaching out to their representatives through emails, phone calls, and at scheduled forums to convey their expectation that the legislature will finally fulfill its duty according to the state Constitution and fund public schools equitably and adequately.

Reader Comments

  1. It’s time for either a recall or an impeachment in Illinois. Governor Rauner, whom locals call Governor Ruin-er and Governor Clowner, must go. Rauner’s goal in instigating the current budget circus in Illinois has little to do with sound fiscal policy. The goal is, and always has been, union-busting. Apparently, Governor Clowner was never told that unions are, in fact, legal.

  2. Through the corporate-owned major media today, a real hatchet job has been on unions, convincing many people that unions were the cause of America’s manufacturing industries decline instead of the real culprit, which was and remains Wall Street greed for ever-greater stock dividend payouts that killed capital investment in modern factories and equipment needed to keep America competitive. Moreover, today’s corporate and political opposition to workers’ First Amendment right of Free Association in unions is not only unconstitutional, it also is against the teachings and official positions of mainstream Christian and Jewish churches and organizations that have taken strong official stances in support of workers’ rights to incorporate in unions and to conduct collective bargaining, as shown in the following official church statements and position papers:

    CATHOLIC CHURCH — UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS, Pastoral Letter “Economic Justice for All,” 1986: “The [Catholic] Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate [this makes unionizing a constitutional right under the First Amendment right of freedom to form associations]. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts — such as those regrettably seen in this country — to break existing unions or prevent workers from organizing.”
    POPE BENEDICT XVI, “Caritas in Veritate,” 2009: “Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past.”

    AMERICAN BAPTIST CHURCHES in the U.S.A. Resolution, 1981: “We reaffirm our position that workers have the right to organize by a free and democratic vote of the workers involved.”

    CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS, Preamble to the Workplace Fairness Resolution, adopted at the 104th Annual Convention, June 1993: “Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, have always supported the labor movement and the rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace. We believe that the permanent replacement of striking workers upsets the balance of power needed for collective bargaining, destroys the dignity of working people and undermines the democratic values of this nation.”

    DISCIPLES OF CHRIST, Resolution on the Church and Labor, 1938: “We believe in the right of laboring men to organize for protection against unjust conditions and to secure a more adequate share of the fruits of the toil.”

    CHRISTIAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH Discipline doctrine, adopted 1982: “Free collective bargaining has proved its value in our free society whenever the parties engaged in collective bargaining have acted in good faith to reach equitable and moral solutions of problems dealing with wages and working conditions.”

    EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, Resolution adopted at Churchwide Assembly, 1991: “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commits itself to advocacy with corporations, businesses, congregations and church-related institutions to protect the rights of workers, support the collective bargaining process, and protect the right to strike.”

    PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A, “Principles of Vocation and Work,” adopted at General Assembly, 1995: “Justice demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision making that affects them. All workers — including undocumented, migrant and farm workers — have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

    UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION OF CONGREGATIONS, adopted at General Assembly, 1997: “The Unitarian Universalist Association urges its member congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists in the United States… to work specifically in favor of mechanisms such as: reform of labor legislation and employment standards to provide greater protection for workers, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, protection from unsafe working conditions and protections from unjust dismissal.”

    UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST, “Resolution Affirming Democratic Principles in an Emerging Global Economy,” adopted at 21st General Synod, 1997: “The 21st General Synod reaffirms the heritage of the United Church of Christ as an advocate for democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including … the responsibility of workers to organize unions for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits and working conditions, and to participate in efforts further to democratize, reform and expand the labor movement domestically and abroad.”

    ——————————————

    EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, Resolution adopted at Churchwide Assembly, 1991: “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commits itself to advocacy with corporations, businesses, congregations and church-related institutions to protect the rights of workers, support the collective bargaining process, and protect the right to strike.”

    UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS, Pastoral Letter “Economic Justice for All,” 1986: “The [Catholic] Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate [this makes unionizing a constitutional right under the First Amendment right of freedom to form associations]. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts — such as those regrettably seen in this country — to break existing unions or prevent workers from organizing.”
    POPE BENEDICT XVI, “Caritas in Veritate,” 2009: “Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past.”

    CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS, Preamble to the Workplace Fairness Resolution, adopted at the 104th Annual Convention, June 1993: “Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, have always supported the labor movement and the rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace. We believe that the permanent replacement of striking workers upsets the balance of power needed for collective bargaining, destroys the dignity of working people and undermines the democratic values of this nation.”

    PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A, “Principles of Vocation and Work,” adopted at General Assembly, 1995: “Justice demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision making that affects them. All workers — including undocumented, migrant and farm workers — have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

    DISCIPLES OF CHRIST, Resolution on the Church and Labor, 1938: “We believe in the right of laboring men to organize for protection against unjust conditions and to secure a more adequate share of the fruits of the toil.”

    UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST, “Resolution Affirming Democratic Principles in an Emerging Global Economy,” adopted at 21st General Synod, 1997: “The 21st General Synod reaffirms the heritage of the United Church of Christ as an advocate for democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including … the responsibility of workers to organize unions for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits and working conditions, and to participate in efforts further to democratize, reform and expand the labor movement domestically and abroad.”

  3. Plain and simple. Republicans reward the wealthy with tax breaks while raising the tax burden on the working class. Democrats raise taxes on the wealthy and give the working class a break. Taxation is a fact that is like a cat and mouse game with the wealthy. Those who have the most generally become greedy and are never satisfied, much like a gambling addiction. On the other hand the working class generally doesn’t have money stashed away on some exotic island country. They gladly pay their taxes expecting the money to go to educate their children, grandchildren etc.

  4. There can be no long-term economic improvement without investment in education. Priorities must be realigned to prevent this great nation from moving backward. This battle against education is occurring in most states. Politicians must look to other sources of revenue and expenditure cuts to balance their budgets, instead of putting the burden on the schoolchildren. Surely the politicians are more intelligent and creative than this!

  5. It is a shame to see what our political system has become. Compromise and respect are two things that seem to be ignored. Ideology is one thing, it forms a system of beliefs, but respect for another person’s ideology is what paves the way for compromise and progress.

  6. Governor Rauner ran for IL governor promising fiscal responsibility, not refusal to work across the aisle or to balance and pass a state budget. As a democrat, I was skeptical of his promises, and sadly he has proven me correct. The great state of IL, Land of Lincoln, has gone from a well-funded and respected state to a nearly bankrupt one where citizens are fleeing our state in droves! The governor’s ONLY solution has been to blame the Democrats for not voting in his “reforms”

  7. Public schools are precisely in the poor condition we find them today because of gross negligence on the part of state legislatures in their vested approach to charter schools.

  8. Kansas was going to be a tax cutting heaven under Sam Brownback. Low taxes were going to bring prosperity and revenues were supposedly going to increase due to economic growth.

    Kansas bond ratings are now near junk and it is only court action that has led to reasonable funding for schools.

    True, taxes can be high enough to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Taxes that are too high stifle economic growth and lead companies to leave the state. What we need to find is that sweet spot that allows both economic growth and funds important services such as schools.

    And of course we need to be on the lookout for waste, fraud, and abuse which abound in too many parts of the public sector.

  9. What is the most important obligation of state government – to provide a quality education to the future generations! I was always told as a child that America was the country where anyone could grow up to be president. That can only be true when states fulfill their obligation to educate EVERY citizen. Not just the wealthy, not just a few chosen for a charter school, EVERY child! I’m proud to be a union member because that’s what we strive for!

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