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Recent Kansas Editorials

Posted April 18

Hutchinson News, April 6

Two things it seems people love to complain about is "kids these days" and "the media," yet is was the combination of those two that helped keep an unqualified principal off of the payroll - and in charge of education - at Pittsburg High School in Southeast Kansas.

The story about the student newspaper "The Booster Redux" has gained national attention, as it well should. Students who began their work on a feature story about incoming principal Amy Robertson, who had been hired on March 6, quickly realized that some of the information regarding Robertson's credentials didn't quite add up.

Instead of accepting blindly what they had been told, the students pursued their search for the truth - and pressed Robertson for answers about her background. Her statements ran counter to some of the information found by the students, and they published their findings on March 31. Faced with revelations from the students' work, Robertson resigned her post on April 4.

The much celebrated article raises two worthy topics for discussion.

First, how did such an unqualified candidate make it through the hiring process for a public school? Typically, schools employ a hiring committee that screens and evaluates candidates, then makes a recommendation to the school board - which is tasked with another level of scrutiny to ensure the school is hiring the most qualified candidate for that district and its children. It's clear that the district failed in its due diligence on this front - and that policy changes should be put in place to protect the district in the future.

Secondly, and far more important, is a recognition of the importance of healthy skepticism, critical thinking, and the pursuit of truth.

In an environment in which it is easy to blame the messenger or find information that conforms to a certain way of thinking, these students have shown the value of questions and answers, and the difference between statements and facts.

These students were told to "stop poking their nose where it doesn't belong," when asking questions about Robertson's background. It's a good thing they didn't listen.

Had these students not been skeptical, and had they not done their work to verify Robertson's credentials, the district would have employed not only someone who wasn't qualified for the job - but someone who seemingly had no problem misleading the district about her background.

Not exactly the sort of influence one wants to lead students on their way to adulthood.

The journalists at the Booster Redux deserve all the credit and praise that's being sent their way - as well as administrators who encouraged their work rather than attempt to silence the students' questions. They have demonstrated the sort of tenacity and dedication to truth that's critical for a strong democracy, a vibrant community and hopeful future.

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Lawrence Journal-World, April 10

The decision to hire former Republican Sen. Jeff King to represent legislators in responding to the Kansas Supreme Court's verdict ordering the state to increase school funding is questionable at best.

Surely legislators could find a better way to spend $50,000 than giving it to a former state senator who was the architect of a school plan the courts rejected and who repeatedly advocated bills threatening the funding and independence of the court system.

In March, the Supreme Court declared that current funding for public schools is inadequate and unconstitutional. The court has ordered the Legislature to come up with a new funding formula, with adequate funding, before July 1.

Senate President Susan Wagle said in late March that she wanted to hire King to advise the Legislature, and the Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 along party lines Friday to hire King. The LCC is made up of the top leaders from both parties in the House and Senate. By law, it takes five votes on the panel to approve a contract to hire an outside attorney.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2014 through 2015, King pushed through bills that made significant policy changes in how the courts are administered, including a provision taking away the Supreme Court's authority to designate the chief judges in district courts. In his previous school funding bill, King included a nonseverability clause that said if any part of the bill was struck down by the courts, everything else in the bill, including funding for the courts, would also become null and void.

Democrats were rightfully critical of the decision to hire King, who announced in May 2016 that he would not seek reelection to his District 15 seat because he was disillusioned with statehouse politics. Democrats said King's track record on school funding issues and the courts made him the last person the Legislature should turn to for help.

"We've got several instances of conflict, changing the way the court's appointed, changing the way the court does its internal business," said state Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat. "Also, this particular person was an advocate and the drafter of the plan that got rejected and found unconstitutional, the block grant."

Ward is right — it's hard to imagine that King's antagonistic approach on school finance in the past will be helpful in the present. And with a deadline looming, the Legislature can ill afford missteps in the school funding process.

Hiring King feels like just such a misstep.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, April 8

From the passage of a major tax reform bill and Medicaid expansion to frenzied battles to override Gov. Sam Brownback's vetoes, this legislative session has been dramatic. The Legislature has undergone a pronounced shift toward the center and lawmakers have been working hard to develop enduring solutions to the state's gravest crisis: a $1 billion shortfall over the next two years. Although the state's rotten fiscal health has been the dominant preoccupation at the Statehouse, a veto-proof budget fix has proven to be a tricky proposition.

It's no secret why this process has been so turbulent and painstaking: Brownback's veto looms over everything. As the session slips by, it has become increasingly apparent that the governor is more concerned with maintaining his political legacy than acting in the best interests of the state.

There are good reasons why we urged the governor not to veto House Bill 2178 when it was sent to his desk in February — it would have generated more than $1 billion in tax revenue over the next two years, reinstated the top income tax bracket and repealed the enormously costly (and blatantly unfair) LLC exemption that allows 330,000 Kansas business owners to pay no taxes on pass-through income. Brownback would have you believe that these were radical measures — an "assault on the pocketbooks of the middle class" — but in reality, they would have returned Kansas to the moderate tax policies that have served its citizens well in the past.

While there's no reason to dwell on the failure of a bill (no matter how disappointing it was), the vote counts on dead legislation can be instructive. HB 2178 passed both chambers of the Legislature by healthy margins, and the House even managed to override Brownback's veto, 85 to 40. The Senate fell three votes short of the override threshold (the final count was 24 to 16), but it's clear that the Legislature was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. Contrast those vote counts with the crushing opposition to Senate Bill 214 (which would have instituted a 4.6 percent flat tax for all earners in Kansas) — a mere three senators supported the bill while 37 of their colleagues voted against it. This vast discrepancy tells us that the governor or the Legislature will have to capitulate on the most consequential issue Kansas faces.

Brownback was a big fan of SB 214 (in an April 5 statement, he promised to sign any bill "similar in nature to SB 214") because it would have retained more of his 2012 tax cuts than HB 2178. This means it would have brought in far less revenue — $295 million in 2018 and $357 million in 2019. This would have forced the state to consider more of Brownback's preferred budget "solutions": delayed payments to the state's pension account, KDOT sweeps and cuts to state agencies. Brownback would also like to sell off future payments from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, but most lawmakers are staunchly opposed to that idea.

Here's the most fundamental problem the Legislature faces this session: Brownback doesn't have enough political incentive to pursue a significant compromise on income taxes. It's true that he'll finally consider abandoning the LLC exemption, but that isn't enough to pull Kansas out of its revenue crisis — particularly if hundreds of millions of dollars are required to abide by the Supreme Court's recent school finance ruling.

If Brownback accepts a bill like HB 2178, he's tacitly repudiating his own tenure as governor. But considering the widespread opposition to his policies in the Legislature and around the state, it's time to do just that.

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Salina Journal, April 7

Kansas farmers and ranchers have plenty of challenges.

If it's not drought, it's sinking commodity prices. Or, as we've seen recently, devastating wildfires.

And now, they have to endure anti-agriculture ideas at the federal level, as President Donald Trump demonstrates zero interest in the welfare of producers in Kansas and beyond.

Trump wasted no time objecting to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that could have increased food exports nationwide by more than $5 billion.

The president also indicated he'd counter our interest in exporting crops in another way by ending the détente with Cuba.

Farmers need the security of trade agreements that bolster farm income, generate rural economic activity and support local jobs. Instead of wrecking sensible opportunities for producers, the president should focus on building new trade relationships and improving those already in place.

Another disaster in the making came in Trump's budget blueprint, which would whack 21 percent in discretionary spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for fiscal year 2018.

The plan would, in part, undermine water programs that ensure clean water for rural communities and strip away resources for already understaffed Farm Service Agency operations.

FSAs, with a presence in most rural counties, play a critical role in helping producers navigate farm programs.

Trump's people suggest FSAs are in need of streamlining. While it's always important to seek efficiencies, it's also necessary to weigh the potential toll of significant cuts.

The goal, no doubt, is to privatize FSA functions, which would do nothing to improve the quality of services.

Trump supporters note his budget proposal is just a first step in the process. Maybe so, but it was more than enough to seriously alarm the agriculture community.

The proposals suggest the president has no idea what goes on in rural America.

Worse yet, it appears he doesn't care.

Sadly, the same rural Kansans who would sustain the greatest losses due to cuts to agriculture programs and blocked trade opportunities couldn't get to the polls fast enough to support Trump.

And now, we need a much better effort from our all-Republican congressional contingent in making a stand against initiatives sure to harm Kansans' quality of life.

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