school superintendent

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.

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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.

Ransom Governance

Mitch McConnell

When Loretta Lynch, nominee to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Republican majority seemed less interested in her record as an attorney and more focused on complaining about the man who would be her predecessor. And this, of course, after Republican efforts during the last session to block her nomination. Yesterday, things took a turn for the strange―

Yesterday, the GOP strategy became clearer. McConnell seems to have kept things vague because he intended to break his word.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there’ll be no vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general until Republicans and Democrats resolve a dispute over a human trafficking bill.

“If they want to have time to turn to the attorney general,” then “we have to finish the human trafficking bill,” McConnell said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The Majority Leader added that he “had hoped” to allow the Senate to vote on Lynch, whose nomination has, by most measures, already waited longer than any other A.G. nomination in American history, but Lynch “will be put off again” unless Democrats agree to pass the human-trafficking bill that stalled last week.

McConnell went on to say, “We have to finish the human trafficking bill. The Loretta Lynch nomination comes next.”

Benen - GOP Ransom NoteJust so we’re clear, there’s no procedural concern or rule that must be followed. McConnell could bring Lynch’s 128-day wait to an end this morning, and by all appearances, she’d have the votes necessary to be confirmed.

(Benen)

―which, admittedly, sounds about par for the course in terms of Republican governance. The point here is the same as it has always been, to govern by ransom. The underlying argument here is that Republicans refuse to undertake their basic obligations unless they are given extra rewards. Give them treats, or the nation will suffer.

Benen noted yesterday:

And what of the human-trafficking bill? That was a bipartisan proposal, set to clear the chamber 100 to 0, but Republicans quietly added an anti-abortion provision and neglected to mention it to the Democratic co-sponsors. Dems, feeling betrayed and opposing the add-on, have decided to withdraw their support for the bill until the GOP majority takes the provision out.

Riders have always been notorious, but of late Republicans have taken this practice to odius extremes.α

As Benen reports today, the White House has sounded off on the Majority Leader’s stupidity:

From the White House podium, press secretary Josh Earnest is usually pretty circumspect in his criticisms of lawmakers. Yesterday, however, President Obama’s spokesperson was far less guarded – the Senate Republicans’ handling of Loretta Lynch’s Attorney General nomination, and their willingness to connect this to an unrelated human-trafficking bill, was just too much for Earnest.

“You’ve got to hand it to Republicans, that they’ve taken even a measure as common sense as [combating human trafficking] and turned it into a partisan controversy.

“That is not a reflection of a flaw in the bill. It’s a reflection of inept leadership”....

.... For his part, McConnell told reporters yesterday that the previous Senate Democratic majority could have voted on Lynch during last year’s lame-duck session, but they didn’t, delaying the vote until the new Congress. McConnell “failed to point out that that delay was at his request,” the president’s spokesperson reminded reporters yesterday.

And as hard as it seems to believe, this sort of dishonesty and irresponsibility is apparently what our Republican-voting neighbors want. But, you know, just like Sen. Embry, it’s not their faults.

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α Consider, for example, Kentucky―what? Kentucky? imagine that!―where Adam Beam reported on an episode in which a group of high school students managed to get a bill into serious consideration before the state house. The bill would have allowed student committees to participate in the screening of candidates for superintendent, and appeared to be on its way to easy passage. Then state Sen. C.B. Embry (R-KY06) tacked on an amendment demanding schools discriminate against transgender students. Another amendment would empower religious supremacism and discrimination. The bill is now left in limbo because the Kentucky House is wary of what happens next. As to Sen. Embry? “It’s not my fault,” he explained. And why would it be? He’s just a Republican, and they are never at fault for their own actions, and thus should never be held accountable.

Benen, Steve. “McConnell subjects Lynch to ransom-based governing”. msnbc. 16 March 2015.

—————. “White House takes aim at GOP’s ‘inept leadership'”. msnbc. 17 March 2015.

Beam, Adam. “Kentucky students get hard lesson in politics from lawmakers”. Boulder Daily Camera. 11 March 2015.