Recent Kansas Editorials
Posted September 13
The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 13
Will governor really listen to educators?
Six years into his governorship, Sam Brownback is seeking input on school funding from the education community. What a concept.
But given his history, there is plenty of reason to doubt whether he will listen to such advice.
In a recent commentary published on these pages, Brownback called on "policymakers and educators to work together to find solutions that work for Kansas students, their parents and their teachers." In particular, he wants educators to help him develop a new school-funding system.
Brownback's outreach comes a few weeks after more than a dozen lawmakers aligned with Brownback lost in the August primary. It also comes after years of tepid support for public education - as well as some hostility and misinformation.
Though Brownback boasts that total education funding increased during his time in office, much of that increase has gone to the pension system or was ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Net operating aid to schools increased only 0.67 percent during the past six years, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards. That hasn't kept up with inflation during that time (8.9 percent) or accounted for increases in student enrollment.
Brownback and the Legislature also didn't seem to care what teachers thought when they eliminated state-mandated due-process rights. Or when GOP lawmakers kept bringing up bills to block state education standards or to prosecute teachers for distributing "harmful material."
And how many teachers and education associations told Brownback to sunset the school-funding formula and replace it with block grants? Educators overwhelmingly supported the old formula. Their main complaint was the state's failure to fully fund it.
Brownback also has complained about schools not spending 65 percent of their funding "into the classroom." In his 2016 State of the Union address, he labeled such inefficiency as "immoral."
Educators have repeatedly explained that the 65 percent threshold is arbitrary and the measurement misleading. Even Brownback's own school efficiency task force said there was no science to support the goal.
What's more, a new report from the KASB ranks Kansas among the nation's leaders in the percentage of dollars going to instruction.
Still, it's good that Brownback is finally reaching out to educators. Here's hoping he really means it.
Hutchinson News, Sept. 12
Paper record provides confidence to electronic voting
Poll workers typically at least ask, if not encourage, voters to use touch-screen machines if they have them available. But just because someone declines in favor of the old-fashioned paper ballot doesn't mean he's technology-intimidated.
Not everyone trusts the purely electronic voting methods. They aren't necessarily paranoid about hackers and other nefarious parties manipulating election outcomes. We all know that computers can malfunction. We have a hard time picturing how votes are recounted and inspected in the event an election is close or a recount needs to be done for whatever reason. And, yes, despite all the assurances of impenetrable security, we aren't completely convinced it's impossible.
Reno County, for one, is looking at new voting equipment. Its current electronic equipment operates on an old Windows operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer.
We like the direction the county may be going. Reno County commissioners last week heard the first of three presentations from equipment vendors. And although the machine wasn't working because it had been dropped in transit -- of course "that's never happened," they were told -- the system sounds good.
The difference? This electronic voting machine produces a paper record of the votes cast on the screen, which is something the current Reno County machines don't do.
That's all voters need. They don't need to physically fill in the ovals on a paper ballot. But they do want to see physical proof that their votes were counted as cast, and just touching the screen to send it out into the digital universe doesn't provide that assurance.
With the ES&S Express Vote machine shown last week, the voter gets a paper printout of how she voted on screen. Not only that, the voter takes the paper ballot and, after checking over to make sure it's right, feeds it into a separate counting machine.
It may sound redundant, but it's worth it. And the heat-sensitive paper ballot used by the machine is still considerably less expensive than a printed ballot -- 9 cents versus 27 cents.
Voters have confidence, and election officials still have actual paper ballots should they ever be needed.
It combines the best of both worlds, as the machine also can alert voters if they vote incorrectly by, for example, voting for too many candidates.
This is the type of technology we should have had all along. Electronic voting wasn't the ultimate answer for the fiasco in the 2000 presidential race. Having computers do all the work may have solved the hanging-chad problem. But voters still need physical proof their votes are being counted correctly, while election officials need the physical record, that only paper can provide.
Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 8
Recent earthquake felt in Lawrence exposes risks of variations in well injection rules.
What happens in Oklahoma doesn't stay in Oklahoma, at least not when it comes to earthquakes.
That was evident Saturday morning when a 5.6 magnitude earthquake centered in Pawnee, Okla., shook residents awake in Lawrence some 250 miles to the northeast. The earthquake was the biggest in Oklahoma since 2011 when a 5.6 magnitude quake struck Prague in the center of the state. Saturday's earthquake was felt from Dallas to Des Moines and from St. Louis to Fayetteville, Ark. Fortunately no serious injuries were reported in connection with the quake and damage was limited.
Still, Saturday was an alarming reminder of the increasingly dangerous connection between wastewater produced by oil and gas drilling and earthquakes. No one can say for sure that Saturday's quake was caused by drilling, but note that the first step Oklahoma officials took in response to the earthquake was to order 37 of the state's 4,000 underground disposal wells to be shut down.
It is these disposal wells that are at the center of the quake controversy. Disposal wells are used to get rid of wastewater — a mixture of saltwater, oil and chemicals — that results from drilling. The wastewater is injected into wells deep underground, oftentimes even deeper than the pockets of oil and gas. The Associated Press reports that in Kansas one barrel of oil produces 16 barrels of wastewater polluted with oil and salt.
It is the disposal of wastewater underground that geologists say is responsible for the spike in earthquakes in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma, a region that now rivals Northern California as the country's most earthquake prone.
After going from no earthquakes in 2012 to more than 120 in 2014, Kansas responded by placing limits on the volume of wastewater that is injected in the most earthquake-prone areas of Kansas. Those caps have produced a measurable decrease in seismic activity and the Kansas Corporation Commission recently expanded the caps to other quake-prone areas. Pennsylvania has severely limited the number of wells and most of the state's wastewater is shipped to Ohio for disposal. Officials in Texas are increasingly mandating the recycling of wastewater as a means of dealing with drought.
By contrast, Oklahoma has been slower to respond, only starting to shut down wells earlier this year.
Variations in state guidelines in wastewater well injections are a risky proposition, especially for neighboring states. Unlike state regulations, earthquakes know no boundaries as Saturday's event demonstrated all too well.
Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 13
Editorial: Don't ignore risks of new overtime rule
This December, the U.S. Department of Labor plans to implement a new overtime rule that will affect millions of American workers.
The rule will extend the overtime and minimum wage protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act to a broader range of employees, and the Labor Department hopes this will increase average income in the U.S. Under the new provision, Americans who earn up to $47,476 per year will be eligible for overtime pay (even if they're salaried) — a jump from the current threshold of $23,660. This may cause many salaried workers to become hourly, and it will require employers to report these changes to the Labor Department.
While the Obama administration is attempting to combat stagnant wages in the U.S. and ensure that workers are being fairly compensated, the overtime rule presents a few liabilities that shouldn't be overlooked.
For example, if the rule succeeds in raising wages substantially over the next decade — the Obama administration anticipates a $12 billion increase — employers might not be able to sustain certain positions. If labor costs become inordinately high, employers may be forced to curtail benefits, reduce hours or even cut jobs — problems that will be exacerbated by the cost of complying with the rule in the first place. According to a study conducted by two economists at George Mason University (Donald J. Boudreaux and Liya Palagashvili), "Reclassifying employees as hourly workers entails considerable legal costs for employers."
The overtime rule might also have a negative impact on employee flexibility. In many cases, salaried employees are given more autonomy than their hourly peers because they hold positions that allow them to work irregular hours. Last year, Gallup found that 37 percent of American workers telecommute — a proportion that has risen from 9 percent in 1995. While this is partially due to the wider availability of internet access, it suggests that the American labor force is increasingly taking advantage of flexible work options.
If salaried workers start receiving overtime pay, employers will be responsible for logging every minute they work (even if they're at home) — from completing assignments to answering emails. If they fail to do this, they can be held legally liable. As such, many employers may minimize risk by requiring workers to spend more time in the office and work traditional hours.
It's true that our overtime eligibility system is antiquated — as the Los Angeles Times notes, $23,660 is ". below the federal poverty line for a family of four. Hardly what most people would consider a management-level salary." Employers shouldn't be allowed to demand unreasonable hours without offering commensurate compensation, and workers shouldn't put up with abusive job duties. However, if companies use the new overtime rule as an excuse to lower base pay, cut benefits and restrict worker freedom, everyone will suffer.
The Obama administration deserves credit for taking measures to strengthen the middle class and protect workers, but it needs to be wary of unintended consequences.