Public Editor

The Kansas education budget: Was growth just slowed or was that a cut?

Readers have raised questions about Gov. Sam Brownback’s new budget plan for Kansas.
Readers have raised questions about Gov. Sam Brownback’s new budget plan for Kansas. The Associated Press

Did Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s new budget plan last week cut education funding, or did it actually increase it, rendering The Star’s news coverage false?

That was the big question I heard repeatedly from readers last Friday. The lead story on that day’s print edition concerned Brownback’s Topeka press conference Feb. 5, where he announced amendments to the 2015 state budget that will reduce planned spending on education by $44.5 million in the wake of tax revenue shortfalls. The plan goes into effect March 7.

The story’s headline was, “School funds slashed.” Many callers objected to that characterization, pointing to a press release from the governor’s office that pointed out education spending was still expected to be higher in 2015 than it was in 2014.

The release read, in part:

Allotments of 2 percent of the Regents system and 1.5 percent for K-12 will result in a savings of $44.5 million for the state general fund. Even with the allotments, Fiscal Year 2015 funding for higher education remains $20 million above (fiscal year) ’14 funding. State Aid for K-12 funding in Fiscal Year 2015 remains $177 million higher than FY’14 funding.

The word “allotment” can be interpreted as a reduction or slowing of growth in this context.

Is it accurate to refer to a reduction in spending in the budget year already underway as a “cut” or a “slash,” then? I should note here that only the headline, not the story, used “slash.” That term does carry a subjective connotation of severity or violence.

I think one can make a case either way. If the spending patterns hold through 2015, then yes, the overall education system will end up receiving more dollars than in 2014. Brownback’s actions might be accurately described as slowing growth, then. That’s a fair point, and one conservative critics have made in other similar situations for years.

On the flip side, though, consider this analogy: If your boss told you in December that your raise for 2015 would be 5 percent, but then amended that to 3 percent in January, would you call that a “cut?” I think most people would.

On a related note, I often compliment the calm, measured demeanor of the readers I talk to. That wasn’t so in this case most of the time. In my experience, the discourse over Brownback — from defenders and detractors alike — is disappointingly nasty.

Let’s drop the rudeness, invective and profanity, OK? Both sides share the blame equally here.

Why no review?

A caller last Friday asked why The Star hadn’t reviewed the “spectacular” Feb. 1 recital by Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez at the Kauffman Center.

Multiple factors go into deciding to review or not. One consideration is whether the show is a one-off, or runs for multiple days. Ticket-buyers often refer to reviews in those cases.

This concert was a gala for the Harriman-Jewell Series, with ticket prices much higher than usual ($75-$250). These events are showcases, but also fundraisers. The Star doesn’t generally review them.

In a city with so many performances, it is impossible to review everything. But I understand fully that readers want to see coverage of events that they enjoyed. Reviews are documentation, and readers love to agree and quibble with critics.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com.

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