Barely Alive, Kansas Public Schools On the Verge Of Brownback’s Death Blow

* The following is an opinion column by R Muse *

If Democrats were the intelligent party it claims to be, during a general election season it seems obvious they would take full advantage of a barely living, barely breathing, and barely functional Republican-led state like Kansas as an example of what never to do; elect Republicans. Although there are about 20 Republican dominated states to use as an example of disastrous policies, or which party’s representatives never to vote for, Kansas, or what’s left of it should be cited as what awaits America if Republicans run the federal government.

However, even a living, breathing example of a Republican state dying may not convince ignorant Americans that Republicans are catastrophically dangerous. It is why Republicans attack education at every opportunity; they would not exist without a stupid base and there is no better way to keep stupid thriving than cutting, and privatizing, public education; just look at Kansas re-electing a monumental cock-up like Sam Brownback. Apparently, that idea of keeping voters stupid factors in to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s ‘trickle-down’ crusade that is as notorious for slashing public education as it is slashing taxes for the rich and corporations.

Just when it seemed there was little left of Kansas public education system for Brownback to rape and pillage into non-existence, a new “scheme” may be the death knell for Kansas public schools which is, after all, every Republicans’ wet dream. Brownback has already invoked the wrath of the Kansas State Supreme Court, twice, for unconstitutionally underfunding the state’s schools, but since he considers himself above the judiciary and the constitution, there is another rash of education cuts on the horizon in an effort to privatize the education system. It is just another typically Republican way to increase wealth for corporations on top of giving them unfunded tax cuts.

The latest education defunding legislation, HB 2741, is an ALEC-inspired bill “to provide the state with a new public school funding formula.” The state needed a new formula after the repeal of the previous formula based on a “two year block grant” mechanism that drastically cut education funding for staying in operation which is why the Kansas Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. The Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) provides a fair summary of the bill that establishes “the Kansas Education Freedom Act.”

Instead of adequately funding the public schools, this typically Republican absurdity creates private school savings and funding programs by diverting what’s left of public education funding directly to private schools. It allows parents to confiscate 70 percent of funding for public schools in their district to pay for private religious schools, Internet schools, home schools, and personal tutors. The “Act” basically cuts 70 percent of public school funding and sends it directly to private and religious educational enterprises.

What is worse, the bill only requires “such students be provided instruction in the least subjects required by state law,” and “does not require any type of student assessment or accountability measures.” Libertarians and Republicans believe it is “big government intrusion” if there was any accountability for spending government dollars on private and religious education. Even worse than no accountability or assessment, the Kansas state treasurer will have unchallenged regulatory oversight over academics and finances and not anyone in the Kansas State Department of Education.

Kansas version of “education freedom accounts” mimics closely ALEC’s Education Savings Account Act template. Particularly the idea of giving education oversight to the state treasurer follows ALEC’s suggestion that a state’s department in charge of education has no right to interfere with education; private or public. ALEC’s legislation defines this educational oversight department as “an organization chosen by the state.” Putting the state treasurer in charge of public education is another means Brownback is using to “weaken public services like education by wresting control from local governments;” it also eliminates the need for a state Department of Education and all that goes with it.

There are a rash of abominations in the proposed “fix” to put an end to public education in Kansas and it should be a dire warning and clarion call to the entire nation of what will be a major disaster if Republicans control the government. Any American that thinks “it can never happen here in my state” would be well advised to check if their state is one of ALEC’s targets.

Several states are already infected with the same ALEC legislation Kansas is attempting to force on the public school system. According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), in 2015 Republicans introduced “172 measures in 42 states parroting the Koch brothers’ favorite legislation writers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”  The end game of the ALEC legislation is to “transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests.”

With public education typically making up a relatively fair portion of state budgets, as it should, the various ALEC-Republican legislation attacking public education is meant specifically to shrink government and eliminate taxation; It is the Grover Norquist plan to privatize all aspects of America’s government by starving it of revenue and “shrink it to a size I can drown in a bathtub.”

A Kansas state legislator once let slip that the Brownback tax cuts were created to starve the state of revenue to justify shrinking the government and thus eliminate services. Although all areas of Kansas government and services have suffered under the Brownback trickle-down frenzy, public education has taken the greatest hits. So much so that the Kansas Supreme Court has twice ruled that Brownback’s education cuts are unconstitutional. His response was to push legislation nullifying the Kansas’ state judiciary and punish non-compliant judges.

There is no good outcome for Kansas’ public schools if this latest Republican abomination comes to pass; which it almost certainly will. It seems natural to feel bad for Kansas residents, but Brownback had already decimated the public schools before they re-elected him to finish the job and privatize the system to do what Republicans do best; reward the rich at the expense of the masses. In this case it is at the expense of Kansas students that will grow up to be as ignorant as Brownback’s supporters.

Coupled with the prospect of another generation of ignorant Republican voters, and a prime example of how catastrophic Republican governance is, Democrats could not possibly have a bigger campaign asset than lowly Kansas.

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