Like moths, miners and marksmen, our Republican Legislature has been busy making holes this session. Voters should be paying attention. One hole cost about two hundred thousand dollars to buy a tool legislators could use to bury the idea that spending more money was necessary for public K-12 education. Instead it appears their contract led to findings that homegrown critical analyses, past studies and the Kansas Supreme Court have all in one way and another discovered the same thing Dr. Taylor found — Kansas doesn’t spend enough to get the outcome its politicians rhetorically demand because of the requirements they perennially reject. In digging the analytic hole, legislators have been buried under a mountain of reality.
The second hole antagonistically and bizarrely also relates to education. While deliberations on the questions of school finance are now focused on the consultant’s report, the Legislature has also debated questions surrounding schools, gun violence and the hoary conservative shibboleths surrounding the 2nd Amendment. In typical Red State America fashion the strongest legislative preference appears to continue to endorse the Old West solution to quelling violence by assuring a plentiful supply of gunslingers.
The Republicans in the statehouse now “own” both of these issues. The Republican majority in the legislature voted to hire Dr. Taylor from Texas A&M to do the school finance analysis in order to buttress their pushback against the education lobby, Democrats and the state Supreme Court for more money to public schools. Now, they have the news from the consultant’s report that Kansas schools overall spend their money with a remarkably high 96 percent efficiency, currently have an 86 percent graduation rate, are on the path to 89 percent graduation in the next couple of years, and will need to spend two billion more to meet Sam Brownback’s endorsed goal of 95 percent by 2022, Senate President Susan Wagle has declared that the required spending level is a fiscal and political impossibility. She adds, ominously, that other state supported programs and services will have to be slashed to achieve more for K-12. This is the dog whistle to all other interests invested in state support to get down here and help prevent us (the current, election year legislature) from hurting ourselves again.
On the gun side we have Senator Ty Masterson asserting that events like the Florida high school shooting, while tragic, were provoking widespread irrationality and overreaction among those seeking tighter gun control measures. In managing committee discussion on several bills to restrict gun accessibility, Masterson’s efforts resulted in two bills being sent on for floor debate. One prevents adjudicated domestic abusers from possessing firearms, and the other recognizes permits for concealed carry gun possession issued by other states. Amendments regarding ownership waiting periods, banning of bump stocks, raising the age of gun ownership and three dozen others were beaten back. Unofficially, it appears that gun control in Kansas should include something like, “A well-regulated faculty being necessary to the security of our teaching institutions, the rights of teachers to bear arms, shall be encouraged.” If you have no qualms concerning teacher martyrdom to suppress school gun violence be sure to vote for the right Republican this August and again in November.
For the rest of us, we’ll watch the development of these holes which could figuratively bury the future of the state of Kansas.
Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka.