The latest incident in the long saga of terrible fallout from Governor Sam Brownback’s disastrous fiscal experiment in tax-cutting comes from the Supreme Court of Kansas. It has ordered the state to provide a new, fairer, and more generous formula for funding schools in order to comply with constitutional requirements for public education. More specifically, it struck down a “block grant” system tossing out limited money indiscriminately that Brownback devised after a fiscal deadlock with the Republican-controlled legislature made the old formula impossible. The court agreed with less-well-funded schools that the block grant unconstitutionally underfunded them. So now the governor and the state, already in the throes of another fiscal crisis, will have until June to come up with a new formula. One quick estimate is that it will cost between $431 million and $893 million to comply.
As Edwin Rios of Mother Jones notes, “[t]he demand for extra education funding couldn’t come at a worse time for Brownback.” He’s already in a struggle with the legislature in an effort to deal with the massive budget deficits attributable to his 2011 tax cut “experiment,” which did not create the business boom he predicted but did decimate revenues. His stubbornness led to the defeat of many of the governor’s allies in GOP primaries last year, which has intensified the intra-party fiscal battle.
In early February, Republican state senators proposed a 5 percent cut to public education spending for the rest of the fiscal year—cutting $120 million in spending through June—and raising income taxes as part of a plan to close the state’s budget gap. That decision quickly fell apart after it drew the ire of educators and activists. Lawmakers eventually passed an increase to the state income tax, but Brownback vetoed it.
So if you’re keeping score at home, Brownback’s Republican opponents want to pare back education spending and some of Brownback’s tax cuts, while Brownback wants to cut education even more and keep the tax cuts. The courts are saying no, and maybe hell no, to both.
Brownback’s answer to the whole problem is to divert even more tax dollars from public schools:
Brownback called for “transformative educational reform” and for the Legislature to pass a funding system that “puts students first.”
In his annual state of the state speech in January, he proposed expanding an existing program of tax breaks for businesses and individuals who fund scholarships for students to attend private and religious schools.
At least Brownback is consistent: When one bit of conservative ideological dogma fails, he reaches for another.