Rep. Scott Schwab of Olathe proved this week that he’s an outspoken Republican foot soldier in promoting Gov. Sam Brownback’s attacks on Kansas schools.
In an email to Olathe School District employees, Schwab unleashed his fury at district leaders, singling out Superintendent Marlin Berry, who has dared to point out problems in the Kansas Legislature’s new school funding strategy.
Schwab’s email included many of the same points Brownback and some other GOP legislators have used this year while criticizing Kansas educators.
Schwab contended the Olathe district has plenty of money. He said the district should be grateful for the new block grant funding the Legislature approved in early 2015 — even though a court panel already has found some parts of it violate the Kansas Constitution. And Schwab parroted Brownback in his opposition to stances held by the Kansas National Education Association.
“Dr. Berry sent a very depressing email on or around July 17 talking about the dire disposition of the district’s finances,” Schwab wrote to Olathe district employees. “It is difficult to go with passion into your daily work when the district’s top leaders are pulling your heart out of it. It was sad to see such poor leadership.”
This is all reminiscent of how Brownback has acted during his own rebukes of school officials. He has absurdly lashed out at the Kansas City, Kan., School District for buying a grand piano, blamed districts for somehow creating their own budget shortfalls and spoken out on how Kansas schools should use their reserve funds.
And just last month, Melika Willoughby, the governor’s deputy communications director, crassly blasted a system that allegedly forces Kansas to spend “millions more on new schools, administrative facilities and technology, while educators complain about the lack of operational funds.”
In their response this week to Schwab, Olathe school board members said, “We find it unfortunate that an elected leader chose to interrupt your workday and misuse the taxpayer funded email system the district provides for you to communicate with parents and peers.”
Olathe, the largest district in Johnson County, with almost 30,000 students, has had other problems with state legislators.
School officials in August asked for $458,000 in “extraordinary needs” funds to help educate more than 100 extra students this fall. But a special state panel, which included Brownback, gave Olathe nothing.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City, Kan., School District — which is part of a lawsuit aimed at boosting future K-12 funding by hundreds of millions of dollars a year — requested about $2 million to deal with higher enrollment but received just $400,000.
In coming months, the Legislature and educators need to work on developing a responsible funding formula for the most critical basic service financed by Kansas taxpayers.
On Friday, at a meeting of the Special Committee on K-12 Student Success, legislators gathered information on spending for classroom education, school bonds and teacher pensions. The panel’s next meeting is in November.
However, this committee needs to be much more than a Republican excuse for further shortchanging school districts.
Future meetings must take serious looks at how the state can funnel more money into classrooms while continuing to support excellent extracurricular programs, student support services and top-flight administrators who care deeply about the children in their care.
Part of this initiative should be providing clear explanations to Kansans on not just how much money is being spent on K-12 education but exactly how it’s used. As we have noted, for instance, the state actually spends $6 million less on general classroom aid than it did five years ago.
Getting something positive done will be made tougher by Brownback’s absolute refusal to reduce his excessive income tax cuts, which went into effect in 2013. Those cuts have badly failed to produce the jobs and revenues once promised.
In recent months, Brownback and the Legislature have sliced funding for some state programs and diverted money from other accounts simply to keep schools functioning.
For now, as Schwab’s recent email and Brownback’s continued comments show, GOP lawmakers seem content to bully school districts that dare to speak out on how taxpayers could finance better K-12 education in Kansas.