By Amanda Litvinov
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Charles Walther recalls that his students were initially excited when they heard the 2014-15 school year was ending early. But then Walther, a social studies teacher at Shawnee Heights Middle School, explained to his 7th-grade government class that when districts like theirs are forced to cut school days from the calendar, they also shave educator salaries.
Once they understood the connection, his students weren’t so joyous.
A new poll shows that Kansas voters aren’t so happy, either. They are fed up with the policies Gov. Brownback and his allies have enacted, and the adverse effects those policies have had on schools. According to the poll:
- Two-thirds of voters oppose Gov. Brownback’s signature tax reforms that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and rich corporations. Even a majority of Republicans (54 percent) said they oppose the policy.
- 83 percent said Brownback’s tax policy hurt the Kansas economy; 85 percent say they are concerned about inadequate spending on public education
- 64 percent support complete repeal of Brownback’s tax policy.
Legislators return next week, and must attempt to address the state’s budget shortfall of nearly $350 million. So far, the legislature has not been able to override Gov. Brownback’s veto of legislation that would roll back most of his tax plan.
And they have yet to complete a new school finance formula that complies with the state Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s education spending is “inadequate from any rational perspective.”
With the budget and school funding still up in the air, district decisions about staffing and programs are on hold. It’s hard not to listen to worst-case-scenario talk about schools not re-opening in August, admits Walther.
But educators and parents have made their concerns heard at rallies and lobby days and other events throughout the legislative session and in meetings with their legislators during the recess.
“The top takeaway here is that Kansans are dialed in and fired up,” said Duane Goossen, a senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. “They want commonsense leadership that will balance the budget, restore funding to Kansas schools, and end this era of fiscal crisis for good. Repealing the Brownback tax plan will accomplish all of these goals.”
Goossen served as Kansas budget director under both Republican and Democratic governors, and served seven terms in the Kansas House of Representatives. He says parent and educator advocacy absolutely matters, and can affect legislators’ votes.
“When you call your legislator, or talk to them, tell them to be strong,” Goossen advised Kansans during a recent discussion of the legislative session. “Don’t settle for half-measures, but go for the full fix. And the simplest way to get to that full fix is to roll back the Brownback tax cuts.”