In past State of State addresses, Brownback has always talked about educationScott Rothschild
In his seven previous State of the State addresses, Gov. Sam Brownback has had a lot to say about public school education and the Kansas Supreme Court’s handling of school finance.
In his eighth and final State of the State scheduled for Tuesday, Brownback says he plans to talk about school finance some more, offering a response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s latest decision that the state’s funding system is inadequate and needs to be fixed.
Brownback, a former U.S. senator, was elected governor in November 2010. Taking office two months later and during the 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood, Brownback declared in his 2011 State of the State that “educating children is to state government as national defense is to the federal government; it is the state’s primary function and the lion’s share of the budget. And that is as it should be.”
And Brownback started a theme in his initial address that he would repeat frequently, calling on the Legislature — not the courts — to define what the Kansas Constitution means by “suitable” education. Throughout his tenure as governor, a three-court panel and later the Kansas Supreme Court would rule against the state in the Gannon lawsuit brought by districts that said the Legislature failed to provide the promised funding under the earlier Montoy case.
In 2012, Brownback proposed a new school funding formula and slammed unelected judges making decisions on school finance. But his major initiative of that year — tax cuts — was approved and affected school funding and all of state government for years.
In 2013, Brownback announced his Kansas Reads to Succeed initiative and said third-grade students should not be promoted to fourth-grade unless they demonstrate an ability to read. He again called on the Legislature to change the selection process of the Kansas Supreme Court.
In 2014, a re-election year, Brownback proclaimed in his State of the State, “We Kansans love our schools and they are great schools.” He came out in support of the state fully funding all-day kindergarten and he touted his proposals to improve reading and career and technical education programs. Again, he took aim at the courts, saying, “Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else.”
After his re-election, and as revenues continued plummeting below projections, Brownback’s tone toward schools changed. In his 2015 State of the State, he blamed the budget shortfall on K-12 spending. He called for repealing the school finance formula and replacing it with a temporary block grant until legislators could write a new funding plan. He also called for moving school board elections to the fall and placing a constitutional amendment before voters that would change the selection process of Kansas Supreme Court justices to the federal model or direct election. A few weeks after his State of the State, Brownback cut public school funding by 1.5 percent as the state’s revenue problems worsened.
In 2016, Brownback complained that not enough education funding was going into the classroom. “That’s highly inefficient, if not immoral, denying Kansans from putting their education dollars where they want it … behind a good teacher,” he said. He also called for merit pay bonuses for exceptional teachers.
Last year, Brownback said it was time for the Legislature to craft a new school finance plan, touted his reading program, and again called for merit-based pay bonuses for teachers. He also said schools should be graded and called for expansion of tax breaks for private school scholarships. It was his first State of the State where he didn’t call for changes to the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected. Just months earlier, five of the court justices who had been up for retention election had been retained. Brownback also faced a much more moderate Legislature that ultimately repealed many of his tax cuts and overcame his veto.
On Tuesday, Brownback will take the podium for his last State of the State address. Please follow KASB on Twitter and Facebook Live for updates and response to the speech.