School finance: We’re not in sasnaK anymore

School finance: We’re not in sasnaK anymore

Superman geeks will remember when “htraE,” otherwise known as Bizarro World, a strange iteration of Earth, was created by a Superman wannabe.  Others will remember the Bizarro Jerry episode of the TV Show “Seinfeld,” in which Elaine hangs out with a group of friends who are kind, thoughtful and considerate, complete opposites of Jerry, George and Kramer. These cultural references come to mind because it is starting to look like 2018 will be the year of Bizarro Kansas.

It may have all started when Kansas Basketball Coach Bill Self shed his usual suit and tie and donned a pullover that matched his West Virginia counterparts.  We also saw the Kansas City Chiefs announce that they would be starting their own number one draft choice at quarterback, instead of the one traded from San Francisco. The last year that actually happened, us older folks were watching the season finale of M*A*S*H. I’m not ready to say things are so topsy-turvy that KU won’t win the Big 12 or the Chiefs won’t lose in the first round of the playoffs, but Kansas sports have had a weird month.

The ‘Rule of Law’

On a more serious note, former Kansas Governor Brownback’s State of the State speech called for $600 million more for education and for the Kansas to follow the “rule of law” when it comes to funding schools.  Previous speeches have included statements like this one from 2015 in which the Governor decried “…massive increases in spending unrelated to actual student populations or improved student achievement.”

Or this from 2016: “Yet today, of the more than $4 billion the state puts into education funding, not nearly enough goes toward instruction. That’s highly inefficient, if not immoral….”

So, it was starting to look like Bizarro Kansas was going to be a better place with a kinder, gentler state of mind. But then things got even more bizarre. A venerated public servant with 53 years of service was villainized in a letter full of legalese, like “not questioning his honesty…if true” and “alleged communication” and “misallocated.” A crafty attorney can lead you right up to the ugly accusation without using words that will land them in hot water.

Kansas political leaders reacted strongly to this unprecedented attack on an individual civil servant. All four former governors (Republican and Democrat), the former chairman of Senate Ways and Means committee, and former president of the Senate, along with nearly half the members of the House Representatives, have provided written support for this esteemed public servant.
The concerns could and should have been expressed without casting aspersions on anyone’s reputation or intent, and using language more easily understood.

Legislative Intent

Here’s my attempt at some of that “alleged communication.”

The issue in question? How to determine an obscure statistical estimate for “line of best fit” that even mathematicians cannot agree on. When the law passed decades ago, legislative intent on how to calculate the aid was sought, and information about the calculation has been provided to committee through the years. The funds were used as intended, to aid in the safe transport of children to school for at least 30 years. Students would have been denied the opportunity for a ride to school had legislative intent not been followed.

Superman’s Bizarro World never really ends well.  Elaine is ultimately rejected by her new Bizarro friends. Kansas basketball might be struggling, but the fourteenth championship is still within our grasp. And I’d sure love to see the Bizarro Chiefs take a Super Bowl and $600 million added to the school finance formula. 

In the end, Kansans will favor following the rule of law, as now-Ambassador Brownback finally acknowledged. Kansans also understand the rule of law needs interpretation, as long as it is done honestly and in good faith.