LAWRENCE, Kan. - Here in Lawrence, we just came through a dramatic and upsetting round of school funding cuts that effectively divided our community. There were threats of some--or several--of our grade schools being closed and things got ugly as parents turned on each other. When parents of children in threatened schools rallied, some parents of children whose schools were not on the chopping block were concerned that their schools would lose teachers, librarians, nurses, paras, etc. in order to save smaller, older grade schools. (What they didn't seem to take into consideration was that class sizes were going to go up regardless, because all those kids from closed schools were going to have to flood the remaining schools.)
Obviously, our situation is not unique. Communities all over the country are considering firing teachers and closing schools. Here in Lawrence, a large group of determined and dedicated parents who call themselves Save Our Neighborhood Schools rolled up their sleeves and figured out real ways that the school district could make cuts without closing schools. To everyone's great surprise, the school board took the community's concern and suggestions to heart, implementing most of SONS' money-saving cuts.
As a result, we're going to lose a few paras, a few teachers, some library materials, one grade school will be absorbed into another, the administration took even more pay cuts on top of last year's pay cuts, etc. Every one is sacrificing a little so that we can keep all of our schools. At one point--and this was not at the recommendation of parents--the school board voted to cut the band and music programs for the sixth grade. The next evening, several high school band students showed up in the USD 497 administrative parking lot loudly playing their instruments in protest. (How freaking awesome is that?)
Our sixth grade music program was reinstated.
But next year, our school district will likely be asked to make even more cuts, and I have to tell you, we're already cut to the bone. I keep hearing hard-right conservatives say things like "Live within your means!" and "I have to live by a budget; so should the schools!"
But really, there's only so much you can cut before you being to seriously degrade the quality of our kids educations, and, to quote a well-worn but entirely factual phrase, those kids ARE our future. (Really, our public school kids should have access to band and orchestra programs long before the sixth grade.)
Kansas politicians, of course, are for the most part too chicken to propose tax increases. They're positive that suggesting tax increases, especially during a recession, will spell certain political death.
That's why I was both impressed and thrilled to receive my State Representative Tom Sloan's (R) newsletter recently stating that he's been working with the governor to try to come up with ways to increase revenue. I have to say that I'm not entirely thrilled with a sales tax increase, as sales taxes impact the poor the most, but I do like the cigarette and liquor taxes. (I don't smoke, but I do drink.)
Here's an excerpt from Tom's latest newsletter:
Taxation: There is much discussion at the Capitol and across the state about tax policies and rates. As noted in the media and my previous Newsletter, an approximate $500 million gap exists between state revenues and the proposed FY 2011 state budget. You may recall from my previous Newsletter that the Legislature and Governor have reduced the state's expenditures by approximately $1 billion between the end of fiscal year 2008 (June 30, 2008) and the current year's budget that ends on June 30, 2010.
The Governor proposed a 1 cent increase in the state sales tax rate as the primary means of funding the state budget. Remember that about 65% of the budget is for aid to education and 23% for social safety net programs. Following are examples of options to increase state revenues:
Increase sales/use tax by 1% - $386.4 million
Increase sales/use tax by .5% - 193.2 million
Individual income tax surcharge of 5% - 134.5 million
Corporate income tax surcharge of 5% - 10.5 million
Individual income tax new bracket of 7.5% above $100,000 single person - 80.4 million
Property tax of one mill per $1,000 assessed valuation on all properties - 30.2 million
Cigarette tax increase 60 cents per pack - 62.4 million
Liquor enforcement tax increase from 8-12% - 23.0 million
Liquor retail drink tax increase from 10-14% - 11.4 million
Liquor gallonage tax doubled (beer 18-36 cents; wine 30-60 cents; hard liquor $2.50-$5.00) 21.9 million
Remove sales tax exemption from electric, gas, water utility bills - 135.0 million
I wrote Tom back and told him that our household is willing to do whatever it takes to fund schools as well as out-of-work and disabled Kansans. I hope that other politicians will have the guts to stand up and do what's right.