‘Fixed Political Convictions’ are Hurting Kansas Schools

According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., Kansas had the fourth biggest drop in per-student funding (total dollar amount) for schools in the United States since the beginning of the recession. In terms of overall percentage, Kansas is tied with Wisconsin for fifth largest decrease at 14.6 percent.

The three states with larger spending cuts to K-12 education were Alabama, Wisconsin, and Idaho.

While state lawmakers and Governor Sam Brownback point to figures that say they have increased the total dollar amount being allocated to education, the claim does not account for inflation and includes spending on teacher pensions. It also doesn’t account for whatever growth there was in the K-12 student body.

The CBPP report adjusts the figures for inflation and does not include spending on teacher pensions.

The CBPP identified 4 main consequences from spending cuts to K-12 education:

  • Cuts in K-12 education at the state level “mean that local school districts have to scale back educational services they provide, raise more local tax revenue to cover the gap, or both.”
  • While more local tax revenue is an option, property values plummeted during the recession. This made it difficult for local school districts to raise additional revenue to cover the gap left by state spending reductions.
  • Many school districts have not been able to return to the employment levels they had before the recession, which can have a serious negative impact on the economy, especially in a state like Kansas where smaller, rural communities rely on the local school district to provide jobs.
  • Although many states and school districts have implemented reform measures to improve the quality of education they can provide to children and better prepare students for the future, implementation of these reforms has been hindered by deep spending cuts.

The spending cuts in Kansas are part of a larger effort by Governor Brownback to push a purely conservative agenda — one that staunchly adheres to the principles of a single political ideology.

According to The Washington Post, Brownback quickly and successfully consolidated conservative power after he was elected in 2010 by challenging moderate Republicans. He promised a legislative agenda that would boost economic growth, spur job creation, and stabilize the economy.

However, along with less spending for K-12 education, Kansas is now looking at a $300 million revenue shortfall, an increased poverty rate, more applicants being denied for welfare assistance, an economic expansion of 2.3 percent (adjusted for inflation) over two years — “half the rate of its four neighbors” — and a credit downgrade.

“To listen to school officials, teachers, parents and social service agencies talk about the cuts is to hear growing alarm about whether Kansas will be able to educate its children and help the poor as in the past,” the Post article reads.

The policies adopted in Kansas are a result of what Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus calls “fixed political convictions.” In an article published on Friday, Marcus criticized independent candidates Greg Orman, running for the U.S. Senate in Kansas, and Larry Pressler, running for the Senate in South Dakota, for not publicly committing to vote with Republicans or Democrats if elected to the Senate.

“I’m fine with running for office as an independent — there’s enough orthodoxy in both parties to make your head explode — but that’s different than running as a cipher,” she writes. “The ideological chasm between the two parties has grown so large that someone with fixed political convictions — other than that he should wield maximum influence — can’t plausibly waver between the two.”

In her article, Marcus fixed an Orman response to reporters after a debate on Wednesday so she could say he gave a non-answer to the question of whether or not he believed he owed Kansas an answer about what party he would support if elected.

While Marcus acknowledges that Orman says he would caucus with the majority party, a smart move for lawmakers not associated with either major party as it can help them obtain influential committee positions, she fails to mention that Orman also addressed the question of what side he would choose if neither party has a clear advantage after Election Day:

“If I get elected and neither party is in the majority, then what I’m going to do is I’m going sit down with both sides, propose a pro-problem solving agenda, and ask both sides whether or not they’re willing to support that agenda. And we’re going to be likely to support the agenda and the party that’s most likely to embrace a pro-problem solving agenda.” – Greg Orman

For people who use a traditional partisan paradigm to look at the political and electoral landscape in the United States, this is a non-answer because it doesn’t fall into the “red-versus-blue” model they think politics should be.

Independent voters and candidates confuse political commentators, analysts, and consultants. Independents scare them, because partisans can’t see beyond what is “red” and what is “blue.” To them, independents couldn’t possibly have political convictions because they refuse to pick between two sides.

The prospect that neither party could have clear control over the Senate scares partisan-minded commentators and analysts.
Shawn M. Griffiths, IVN Editor-in-Chief
Marcus says it is now impossible to waiver between the two parties, but being independent-minded is not about wavering between the Republican and Democratic parties; it is about thinking outside the parties altogether. People who cannot see beyond “red-versus-blue” politics can’t understand this.

To the partisan-focused, the answer to any problem must lie with one of the two major parties and voters or candidates who think otherwise must be confused, uninformed, or secretly partisan and just want to say they are independent or deceive voters with the “I” next to their name.

In the 2014 midterm elections, as Republicans and Democrats fight to gain control over the U.S. Senate, the prospect that neither party could have clear control over the Senate scares partisan-minded commentators and analysts even more. Independents, though small in number, may be able to control the dialogue in the upper chamber and so people want to be able to fit them in a red or blue box, and if they can’t do that then the problem must not be with them — it must be with the candidate or the independent-minded voter who supports them.

Someone who has “fixed political convictions” can easily be labeled — they can easily fit inside a red or blue box.

However, maybe, just maybe, these politicians are the problem as we have seen in states like Kansas. “Fixed political convictions” have exacerbated the hyper-partisan environment in Washington, which has prevented anything from getting done at all. “Fixed political convictions” prevent real, pragmatic solutions from being discussed.

Voters are tired of politics as usual. A majority of voters now say neither major party represents America or its interests, and a growing number of Americans are simply choosing not to affiliate with either major party, and those who look at American politics as only a contest of “red versus blue” do not know how to respond to this. Because of their fixed perception of how things should be, they fail to see how things really are.

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Image: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback / Source: AP