Last Friday, the candidates for governor faced off in a debate in Johnson County, Kansas. This debate continued the focus on education, a conversation that began during the first public debate between Gov. Sam Brownback and challenger Paul Davis at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson earlier this month.
Brownback implemented a series of economic policies that significantly cut taxes and spending in Kansas. However, these cuts have drawn sharp criticism from opponents like Davis, who has repeatedly condemned Brownback’s tax cuts.
“Brownback has conducted an economic experiment on Kansas and evidence overwhelmingly shows that experiment failed,” Chris Pumpelly, Davis’ campaign press secretary, said. “Paul Davis’s first priority is restoring the cuts that Brownback has made to education.”
John Milburn, communications director for Brownback’s reelection campaign, has a different perspective on the issue.
“Brownback has increased funding by approximately $50 million over the last four years,” Milburn said.
In 2012, Brownback launched the Career Technical Education initiative that Milburn describes as being “tremendously successful.” Milburn also said that in the last four years, technical education enrollment has risen 236 percent. According to Milburn, Brownback has made “strategic investments” important to the Kansas economy, including investments in the K-State College of Engineering, College of Architecture, and the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
However, associate professor of biology and president of the K-State Faculty Senate, David Rintoul, said that selectively targeting these specific programs is problematic because students enrolled in these colleges must take classes from other colleges that are not supported. Also, students in other colleges do not benefit from the support.
Brownback has increased the total amount of state funding for primary and secondary schools. But Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards said state spending, when adjusted for inflation, has essentially remained flat.The current funding from the state comprises about 20 percent of K-State’s general use operating budget, compared to around 34 percent in 2001, according to K-State’s Budget Office.
This reduction in education funding was not the result of a single policy or gubernatorial administration, but declines made tuition make up a greater chunk of our university income, Rintoul said.
“No matter who gets elected, it will still be miserable (for education),” Rintoul said. “I don’t think anybody knows where the holes are. This is not helping students in the classroom. We’re seeing more students, fewer teachers and less money from the state. In good or in bad times, cuts are now the answer to everything. Historically, legislators and governments thought of education as an investment, but now the outlook is as an expense rather than an investment. (K-State) could boost the state economy and be an engine of economic growth. As education decreases, economic prospects decline. We have to elect people who understand that.”