The Kansas Way (Brownback Note Downbeat Mix)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) speaks, in undated, uncredited photo.

“In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country―I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

Tim Hallacy

In November we learned that “Kansas will face a $279 million budget shortfall by July”; by April the crisis began taking shape as some school districts faced an early ending to the school year under such financial pressures as reality brought to bear. And all of this really is intentional; the economic hypothesis is validated, in the eyes of its creator, Arthur Laffer, because people will vote for it. The shortfall, of course, was unexpectedly larger than estimates tailored to make the destruction of Kansas government palatable had suggested, but even faced with this grim reality, Kansas voters re-elected Gov. Sam Brownback (R), asking for more of the same.

Rebecca Klein of Huffington Post explains how residents of the Sunflower State are now getting their wish:

Kansas school superintendent Alan Cunningham has been involved with hiring teachers for the past 35 years. In that time, he has never had a harder time filling positions than this year.

Qualified applicants for job openings in elementary schools or physical education “used to be a dime a dozen,” Cunningham said. Now Cunningham’s school district, Dodge City School District, is starting the school year with teachers in those positions who are not fully certified.

“We’ve had to go to substitute teachers,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham’s predicament is one superintendents throughout his state are facing. In Kansas, where teacher pay is low and schools are underfunded, hundreds of teaching positions throughout the state are still vacant just a few weeks before the start of the school year.

“This is the first year we’ve experienced a shortage as significantly as we are this year,” said Cunningham, referring specifically to his district. “We’ve had to combine some classrooms where we weren’t able to find a teacher and made class sizes significantly higher than we’d like them to be.”

Considering the conditions facing educators in Kansas, it is not an unlikely spot for a teacher shortage. Teachers in Kansas have some of the lowest average pay in the country. In 2014, the legislature voted to cut back on job protections for teachers that gave them certain due process rights if they faced dismissal. In June 2015, a three-judge district court panel said that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional, in a ruling that was soon kicked up to the state Supreme Court. As a result of this funding system and pervasive tax cuts throughout the state that led to extreme revenue losses, several districts throughout the state had to end the 2014-2015 school year early because they did not have the money to stay open.

Capitalizing on the unrest among teachers, one school district in the neighboring state of Missouri even put up billboards in Kansas attempting to recruit dissatisfied teachers. Amid all this, an aging workforce has led to an increase in teacher retirements.

As one educator, Superintendent Tim Hallacy of Silver Lake Schools, explained, “In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country―I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

It is also by design.

This is the Kansas way.

____________________

Associated Press. “Kansas faces $279 million budget shortfall by summer”. KSN. 10 November 2014.

Klein, Rebecca. “Kansas Underfunded Education And Cut Tenure. Now It Can’t Find Enough Teachers To Fill Classrooms.” The Huffington Post. 31 July 2015.

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