Do Priorities Matter?

How much is enough? At least one measure, Kansans are paying more than their share for education.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, which cites Census Bureau numbers:

State residents paid $54.17 of every $1,000 they earned to support K-12 schools — better than the national average of $50.53, good for 15th in the nation.

Later on in the story, the LJW notes that Kansas was 26th by this measure as recently as 2002. So clearly, residents are increasing their tax burdens for schooling.

OK then, Kansans are making a better-than-average effort to fund schooling.

But because other states have higher incomes,

Kansas spent $7,518 per student, below the national average of $8,217.

(We think that this number underestimates money spent in Kansas in the name of education, but we’ll let that pass for the moment.)

Expect advocates of ramped-up spending to cite the latter figure and ignore the former. But doing so is unwise, for school budgets do not (or should not, at any rate) exist outside the real world. The real world means that there are a variety of serious and legitimate claims on the public purse and on taxpayer dollars. Demanding X dollars per year for any budget item irrespective of state income as well as other budget priorities is irresponsible.

Alan Rupe, attorney for the “Give us more” campaign, dismisses such reasoning:

“Those [Census] numbers don’t affect the debate; the debate is over the adequacy of funding as defined by the Kansas Constitution.

And how does the constitution itself dictates a specific dollar amount? That’s a whole thorny question.

For some reason, the article introduces the red herring of a lack of a vigorous tourism industry in Kansas:

Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said Kansas residents are paying such a high price, in part, because the state lacks the tourism to generate income from out-of-state residents.

What? Yes, tourists can add tax dollars. But there are several questions that Kansans face, and “How can we get more tourism dollars” is not terribly relevant to the education debate. More important are questions such as “How much can we afford,” “Where does education fit within a list of priorities that compete for public funds,” “How do we allocate the money that we are spending,” and “Does the legislature or the court make budget policy?”

The question of whether or not to expand gambling is equally irrelevant.

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