Monthly Archives: January 2011
One of my favorite Bill Murray films is “Groundhog Day”, a comedy that tells the tale of Phil Connors, a TV meteorologist, who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. I was reminded of that movie last week when Governor Brownback announced that Speaker Mike O’Neal would be tasked with passing legislation this session defining the legislature’s responsibility for funding K-12 education.
I applaud the Governor for addressing our budget crisis. It is critical that we fill the $7.7 billion long-term funding gap in KPERS and address the state’s burgeoning Medicaid costs. But when it comes to K-12 education funding, the Governor’s stance is that the state is spending too much. By having the Kansas Legislature redefine its constitutional duty to fund a “suitable” education, he’s attempting to justify more cuts.
We’ve been down this path before. In 2001 the Kansas Legislature commissioned a study to define the costs of a suitable K-12 education. And guess what – results said that the legislature was, in fact, woefully underfunding education. In 2003 the Shawnee County District Court declared Kansas’s school finance formula unconstitutional and the Kansas Supreme Court later confirmed the district court’s findings. Finally, in 2006, the legislature passed an enhanced school finance plan that put another $466 million into public schools over a three year period. This bipartisan supported plan guarantees a quality education to every Kansas child, in every corner of this state.
As a result, we’ve seen improved student achievement across the board. In the last four years alone, reading scores have improved more than 8 percent while math scores have improved more than 10 percent. We were clearly on the right path, but now we’ve changed courses.
Let’s be clear about where this is headed – Governor Brownback and Speaker O’Neal want to drastically cut state funding and have local school districts pick up the difference. And the real losers will be the kids living in poorer areas of Kansas. Schoolchildren in districts with high property valuations will continue to enjoy a top-notch education. But those school kids living in significantly poorer districts will be left behind.
The one saving grace is the Montoy case precedent. My guess is that some individual or party will eventually file suit against Speaker O’Neal’s new school finance formula and the courts will eventually rule in the plaintiffs’ favor. And so, like Phil Connors, the Kansas Legislature will find itself reliving the same event as it redefines, under court order, the school finance formula long after the 2011 legislative session is over.
As the nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King Day today, let us all remember Dr. King’s ability and success in advocating for social justice through non-violent means.
In particular, it’s high time we all do a little bit more listening and a little less screaming at one another in the body politic.
Happy New Year! I hope you and your loved ones have enjoyed the holidays. And as we move forward in 2011, it’s once again that time for the Kansas Legislature to convene in Topeka and work the will of the people.
I think that the title of one of Bob Dylan’s hit songs, “The Times They Are a-Changin”, aptly sums up Kansas politics for the foreseeable future. For the past eight years that I have served in the Legislature, a coalition of moderate Republican and Democratic legislators has guided the legislative agenda in Topeka. That coalition was effectively dissolved in the November elections as Democrats lost 16 House seats to more conservative Republicans. The Kansas Senate appears to be the remaining moderate entity in Kansas state government.
This political sea change comes at a very crucial time in our state’s history. Kansas’ economy is stuck in neutral, and the Legislature will be struggling to come to terms with how to address the loss of approximately $500 million in federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) assistance in crafting the Fiscal Year 2012 budget. While there can be no sacred cows during tough financial times, Kansans nevertheless could see some very real and fundamental shifts in support for various programs and services given the change in prevailing political philosophy. Investments in K-12 education, higher education, Medicaid and public safety programs could all be cut as policies that cut income taxes and other revenue sources are implemented.
Everyone knows that the state’s number one priority, particularly during these tough economic times, is to create good-paying jobs. But the real issue to be debated is how to go about doing it – should the state be cutting taxes and relying on the private sector, or should the state be making targeted investments that will eventually spur job creation? And if the state is to be making investments, what are those programs and services that will provide Kansas the biggest “bang for the buck”? These are the issues that should be driving a lot of the debate in Topeka. And given the change in political makeup of the legislature, Kansas voters may be seeing some different outcomes than what has been pursued over the past decade.
So sit down, strap in and hang on, Kansas – this is going to be a very interesting legislative session!
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Thank you for letting me serve as your State Senator. I always appreciate knowing where you stand on the issues our state is currently facing. I can be reached at (785) 296-7668 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings). My e-mail address is Tom.Holland@senate.ks.gov. If you would like to be added to my e-mail newsletter mailing list, please send me your e-mail address. I also keep a Facebook page and my website is http://www.TomHollandforKansas.org.