Some Kansans are furious with Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to increase spending on the state’s public schools by more than $500 million during the next five years.
Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, called the idea reckless. Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said it was disingenuous. Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, called it irresponsible.
“The governor has waved the white flag of surrender,” said GOP state Rep. J.R. Claeys of Salina.
Those comments, and others like them, are seriously unhelpful.
Many Republicans remain in a state of denial. They still think they won’t have to increase state money for schools this session.
They may believe they can defy the state Supreme Court and still keep the schools open. Perhaps a constitutional amendment will allow them to sidestep the court.
Still others think a token spending increase will be enough.
For almost eight years, Brownback has lived in a similar state of denial.
Finally, though, the Republican governor has moved to acceptance. Kansas, he knows, has no choice but to come up with close to $600 million to fully fund education.
“Complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional,” Brownback said in a statement.
Those words probably shocked every Kansan, as well as the governor’s conservative colleagues. But he is absolutely correct.
Sadly, the governor’s proposal is incomplete. Brownback would not say where most of the funds would come from to pay for his more than $500 million increase — he only pledged to find the money without raising taxes.
Some habits are hard to break.
While economic growth and the 2017 tax increases he unsuccessfully vetoed will provide some additional money, fully funding schools will require additional revenue in the next five years.
Cutting funding for other state programs isn’t the answer. Kansas must invest in better roads, prisons, health care and other services.
Brownback wants to phase in his school spending increases. We agree, although the timetable should be accelerated: Kansans should hit the $600 million school target within three years, not five.
And if school spending can be phased in, tax increases can be, too. Higher income taxes for wealthier Kansans, enacted over a three-year period, are a possibility, although there may be other ways to do it.
Kansas Democrats have some responsibility in this matter, as do members of the state Supreme Court. They should embrace real, substantial progress on school finance accomplished in a reasonable time frame.
Republicans should accept tax hikes to pay for the increased spending.
We once believed action on the school funding question could wait until the full impact of the 2017 tax and spending increases was clear. That’s no longer an option. The state Supreme Court has taken it off the table.
The only solution now is more money for kids and higher taxes to pay for it. The Legislature should concede that reality and start working on a timetable today.