It’s frequently said that a good, experienced trial attorney will never ask a question of a witness to which he does not already know the answer.
Republicans in the Kansas Legislature may wish they had followed similar advice after hiring their own consultant to determine how much is really needed to adequately fund public education.
Lawmakers are tired of the courts repeatedly reminding them that our schools are underfunded. They sure didn’t like being told it may take about $600 million to satisfy the Supreme Court’s definition of “adequate” funding.
They wanted their own hand-picked consultant to do a study that would undoubtedly come up with a financial solution costing considerably less than a presumed figure the Supreme Court will accept as both adequate and equitable.
After all, the Legislature was paying the consultant’s fees. Surely the consultant would realize the importance of providing a report favorable to those who did the hiring?
Apparently, the consultant didn’t get the memo.
Republican lawmakers were stunned to be presented with a report saying the $600 million price tag they had been whining about for the past year is really a bargain if the goal is to provide the educational results that everyone expects. The state may actually have to increase funding by $1.7 billion to $2 billion.
Even Democrats were shocked at the report given their preemptive complaints about Republicans hiring a consultant who was expected to side with conservative lawmakers.
It’s a classic example of why Republicans shouldn’t have asked for the report without having an idea what it would contain.
They were a victim of their own arrogance or their own frustration resulting from years of resistance to the courts and repeated denials that pumping millions of additional dollars into public education will produce results which measure up to the money being spent.
As expected, ultraconservative Republicans were hyperventilating as soon as they saw the consultant’s numbers.
“The bottom line is that Kansans cannot afford what the court is demanding and we cannot afford what the new study is recommending,” said Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita).
Kansans couldn’t afford the Brownback tax cuts either, but that didn’t stop Wagle from pushing that misguided policy through the Legislature and being a cheerleader for five years until its failure became even too much for Wagle to deny.
Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) said the study’s recommendation would bankrupt the state.
What of tax cuts that robbed the state of billions of dollars, undermined our fiscal integrity, downgraded our credit rating and ignored the needs of our infrastructure, the needy and our elderly?
It’s a matter of priorities.
Tax cuts for the wealthy, tax credits for private schools and tax breaks for corporations have no trouble finding support from ultraconservatives in the Legislature. Those policies align with their religious conviction that private education always provides better results than public education, that tax cuts always spur the economy and without tax breaks corporations won’t give Kansas a second look.
Nothing short of an act of God can shatter those hard-core beliefs. And, on the outside chance that any of those beliefs fail to deliver the expected results, there’s always the fall-back position . . . blame Obama.
Despite their best efforts, it will be difficult for Republicans to walk away from the findings in their own study which was paid for by taxpayers. For example:
— Reaching the state’s goal of a 95 percent graduation rate would require a funding boost of $2 billion.
— A 90 percent high school graduation rate would require additional spending of $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion.
Perhaps the difference between a 90 percent graduation rate and a 95 percent rate isn’t worth $500 million. If we’re willing to lower our expectations a little more — to say 70 or 80 percent — we can reach a cost figure that’s more “affordable” and won’t bankrupt the state.
Then again, maybe public education is overrated.
In fact, it could be argued that having better educated voters isn’t in the best interest of the new Republican Party.
For example, during the last election Trump earned 67 percent of the vote among white voters who lacked either a high school diploma or had no college education. More specifically, data compiled by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight shows the margin of Trump’s electoral victory was decided in the least educated counties of the U.S.
This is the same voter base that believes Mexico will pay for the border wall, that millions of people are voting illegally, that the Sandy Hook School shooting was a hoax, that Trump is the victim of a “‘deep state’ conspiracy” and who are convinced they’re too smart to be duped by fake news on Facebook.
Having a delusional constituency is just fine with ultraconservative Republicans.
That’s why Education Secretary Betsy Devos has never visited a failing school district and has no interest in what it would take to make these public schools succeed.
It’s why the Kansas Legislature continues to blame the courts — and not themselves — for a decades long school funding battle.
The big mistake by Republican leadership wasn’t just asking a question to which it didn’t know the answer. It’s getting an answer to a problem they have no interest in fixing.
Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.