Yes, there must be cuts made to government-run K-12 education in Kansas.
No, cuts will not lay off good teachers. No, cuts will not damage the quality of education. The cuts will result in the laying off of many unneeded, over-paid administrators; a greater amount of competition in bidding practices; and perhaps the firing of a few bad teachers.
Kansas' Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson has proposed a one-cent increase -- in actually, that is an 18% increase -- in the state sales tax, from 5.3% to 6.3% on every dollar spent by consumers. On Thursday, the House Taxation committee received testimony in favor of the tax increase. Today, the committee held a hearing for opponents. there were around six verbal testimonies, and my written testimony was one of four. I was the only tax opponent with experience in government-run education.
The most vocal proponents are the 300 monopolized school districts in Kansas, who claim that drastic anti-education consequences will result from cuts in education.
WIBW covered the proponents' side here:
K-12 education is among items that have absorbed cuts. Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards says cutting further education and social services would hurt people more than an increase in sales tax.
WIBW didn't mention that Tallman, along with being the contract lobbyist for the association that receives millions in combined membership dues from most of the state's 300 school districts, is a contract lobbyist for the Kansas arm of the far-left NEA.
The Lawrence Journal-World also covered the proponents' testimony:
Megan Greene of Lawrence, whose daughter, Azucena Melchor, attends Cordley School, told committee members that the Lawrence school board is considering drastic budget cuts - firing teachers, increasing class sizes and closing schools.
"When schools are the institutional anchors for neighborhoods, their closure means loss of property values, loss of families in the neighborhoods, and a general decline," she said.
Below is my written testimony:
Testimony in opposition to sales tax increase
House Taxation Committee
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Kansas House member, 2006-08
Trustee, Johnson County Community College, 2005-09
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chair, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. My name is Benjamin Hodge. I served in the Kansas House from 2006-2008, and for four years -- from 2005-2009 -- I was one of six elected, at-large trustees at Johnson County Community College. JCCC has about 50,000 students every year, making it the largest college in Kansas. I am here today for two reasons: one, to oppose this bill that attempts to increase the state-wide sales tax by double-digit margins; and two, knowing that you are receiving lots of pressure from K-12 school administrators and teachers unions, I am here to reassure you that government-run schools in Kansas receive more than enough in tax money.
I'd like to share with you some of my experiences at JCCC. I encountered a disturbing amount of fraud, waste, law-breaking and incompetence. This behavior - both unethical and costly to the public - was under both former President Charles Carlsen and even more so with current President Terry Calaway, and under the leadership of trustee Lynn Mitchelson. I'll encourage you to consider whether there are similar things happening all around the state, at other government schools.
The annual budget at JCCC is about $160 million dollars. I'll estimate that at least a half percent of the budget is spent on outright fraud, and another five percent on what I'll call "willful incompetence."
By fraud, I mean fraud - it's a safe bet that a million dollars or more a year is spent under current President Terry Calaway, when the purpose is clearly against the public interest.
And by "willful incompetence," I'm referring to spending that is done "just because;" it may not be clearly unethical, but it's where nobody actually expects any meaningful result from the spending.
Some of the easiest examples of fraudulent spending all involve the college lawyer, Mark Ferguson. In 40 years, the college has never once performed a competitive bid for its legal contract. The result is a no-bid contract going to Mark Ferguson, who is a law partner of Larry Gates, the chairman of the Kansas Democratic party. I'll note that there is also a no-bid contract going to the same man - Mark Ferguson - through the Department of Education at the K-12 level; I was told by a state school board member that they did not perform their own bidding process, but that they relied on a bidding process done by the administration of Governor Sebelius. So what we have are two of the largest educational entities in the state, providing lucrative no-bid contracts to the law firm of the state Democratic Party chairman.
As the college's lawyer, Mark Ferguson has led efforts to cover up crimes of all kinds - sexual harassment, First Amendment violations, open records violations, and open meetings violations. He has encouraged elected JCCC officials to violate their own codes of conduct. And what's perhaps even more embarrassing, he hasn't even done a very good job of all of this - for example, he once told a student reporter, "I'm not going to grant your KORA (open records) request because, if I do, you're going to report on it." All of this - yet there's a no-bid contract for his services.
I mentioned another five percent of the budget is wasted on willful incompetence. Some examples: the performing arts center loses a quarter million dollars a year; this loss could be made up through an increase in ticket prices for the disproportionally high-income audience. $150,000 is spent on lobbying you. Hundreds of thousands a year is spent just to be part of clubs - various non-profits that don't accomplish much. Right now, I've been told by a college source that President Calaway is adding a brand new layer of administrators because the teachers union asked for it, and the NEA will control the hiring of the administrators.
Here are some things we know: We know that when businesses are forced to compete for customers, that they are forced to become better at what they do - competition forces businesses to cut wasteful spending, and to provide a better product. We know that higher education is required to compete for the right to serve its students - the customer chooses the school. But not with K-12. If there is this much waste in higher education, imagine how much waste there is in K-12 education, where they are not required to compete for students.
From KU's researcher Art Hall, we know that from 1970 to 2000, K-12 administration has almost doubled in total employees, and that the total number of teachers has increased by 30%. But all the while, the total number of students did not increase, even though the state grew by 25% in population.
We know from the US Department of Education that the DC Voucher Program, at $7500 per student, ended up with better educational results than the DC public schools that get $25,000 per student.
Please do not pass new tax increases. But please DO do these things - pass laws requiring transparency and online, itemized lists of expenditures. I successfully pushed for this at JCCC, and it only cost us $25,000. We need itemized, online lists of spending for each of the 300 school districts. Do pass school choice laws, which will result in lower costs and will provide better educations for kids. Do pass bans on taxpayer-funded lobbying; most of the time, these lobbyists end up fighting against the interests of citizens, and that's offensive.
In short, please do pass laws that force schools to better spend their money. Throughout Kansas government, including schools, you'll find that governments don't have a revenue problem, but rather a spending problem.
Connect with Benjamin Hodge at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The Kansas Progress, and LibertyLinked. Hodge is President of the State and Local Reform Group of Kansas. He served as one of seven at-large trustees at Johnson County Community College from 2005-’09, a member of the Kansas House from 2007-’08, a delegate to the Kansas Republican Party from 2009-’10, and was founder of the Overland Park Republican Party in 2011. His public policy record is recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, the NRA, Kansans for Life, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).