Day: <span>May 5, 2015</span>

When a fairy tale becomes a nightmare for education


The governor and the legislative majority cut taxes, promising that everyone would prosper and live happily ever after. And, they were considered heroes in the eyes of constituents who believe the best government is the least possible government. Sound familiar?

What I just described actually happened in Kansas three years ago, and, despite the fairy tale promises, the experience didn’t have a happy ending, especially for educators and their students. Nevertheless, a similar scenario is developing now in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott and other leaders also are demanding tax cuts. Sooner or later, the House and Senate majorities will end their political dueling and agree on a tax reduction package that will reduce available state revenue by $4 billion to $5 billion in the upcoming two-year budget cycle. In the future, the loss of state revenue could total billions more, making it difficult to provide essential services, such as quality education, to a growing population.

And, if any Texas leaders know how the Kansas tax-cutting experience played out, they are ignoring it.

In 2012, Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and a Republican-dominated Legislature enacted sweeping tax cuts, allegedly to spur economic growth and increase prosperity. But they didn’t know what they were talking about – or didn’t care. Now, three years later, Kansas is in the middle of a budgetary nightmare.

With post-cut tax receipts repeatedly coming in lower than expectations, Kansas is facing a $422 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, according to the Washington Post column linked below.

Public schools haven’t taken the only budgetary hits because there has been more than enough misery to spread around among a host of important services. But state government in Kansas, as in Texas, has a history – and a court decision to prove it – of under-funding its public schools. And, the tax cuts worsened the problem.

Consequently, Kansas schools have been forced to cut back on a number of important programs, and at least eight districts are ending the school year early because they have run out of money. At least one district is shutting down two weeks early, and the budgetary misery likely will continue next school year.

As columnist Catherine Rampell wrote, educators “must continue to find new and innovative ways to do less with less.”

That won’t happen in Texas, you say? A few years ago, Gov. Brownback and his allies said it wouldn’t happen in Kansas either. The truth is no one knows what the long-term effect of tax cuts in Texas will be. We have a strong economy, but it is showing signs of cooling, partly because of weaker oil prices and cuts in energy production. And, remember, many Texas school districts are still recovering from $5.4 billion in education cuts imposed by the legislative majority four years ago.

Elections have consequences. In Kansas and soon in Texas, those consequences include tax cuts.

Tax cuts can have consequences too, and not necessarily what tax-cutters may promise or expect.