Stalling Efficiency, Pushing Tax Increases

As you probably know, Gov. Mark Parkinson gave his state-of-the-state address a few days ago. (You can read his prepared remarks here.)

He lavished praise on the state for its history in K-12 education:

While other states were shy to adopt public education, we embraced it.  Our leaders made the conscious decision clear back in the 1860s to spend money on public education. Their vision was to create a literate population that would become workers, then consumers and lead our state to prosperity. This commitment to public schools was not one time or intermittent; it was long-lasting. It is at the very essence of what makes Kansas, Kansas.

“Throughout our history this has worked.  We developed a world class public school system.  It is a system that outside entities consistently rate as one of the best in the country.  It is a system that has higher graduation rates and test scores than the national average.  It is a system that has provided every child a chance and has created the outstanding labor force that we dreamed of building. It happened because those that came before us had vision and the courage to make investments in our future.

Above-average test scores are good. But are they sufficient when fewer than half of students read at proficient on the “Nation’s Report Card?”I’ll get back to that in another commentary.

Parkinson also spoke about recent budget cuts and the need for efficiency: “We have cut $1 billion out of the state budget.  Like any organization, public or private, there was waste in state government.  That is inevitable.”

How about local schools? It would be foolish to expect that state government has waste but school districts do not. As Bob Weeks pointed out, Speaker Mike O’Neal, in his response to the governor’s remarks, “when all sources of funding are considered, schools have been cut less than 1.5% on average, and schools are receiving more funding than in fiscal year 2008.”

With that modest amount in cutbacks, there’s most likely more room for efficiency. Unfortunately, the budget cuts at the state level that point out the need for efficiencies have been used as an excuse to looking for them. Citing the need to respond to (slight) cutbacks in state aid, school districts pressured the Division of Legislative Post-Audit into putting a pause on efforts to produce efficiency audits.

If smarter spender isn’t the answer, what is? Raising taxes, of course. The Lawrence Journal-World notes that “Gov. Mark Parkinson’s proposal to funnel more money into state coffers by increasing sales and cigarette taxes drew applause from education officials in Lawrence.” No doubt, many officials throughout the state would agree.

Scott Morgan, president of the Lawrence school board, seems to think that what the state needs is not more efficient schools, but raising income taxes: “A graduated income tax is probably the fairest way [to increase tax revenue], but a property tax is more fair than a sales tax.”

Of course, the two states most known for having a graduated income tax are California and New York, two states that are all but technically broke, proving that yes, you can outspend your revenue base, even with a graduated income tax.

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