One of the most discouraging things you can do if you’re interested in public affairs is to go to town hall meetings with your local member of Congress or one of your state’s U.S. Senators. I went to such a forum with Kansas Rep. Vince Snowbarger during his one and only term in the House and it was a revelation.
A member of Dr. Bob Meneilly’s high tech hate-group, the former Mainstream Coalition, berated the Congressman for his supposed support of school vouchers.
The questioner insisted that this was the opening wedge of theocracy since vouchers could be used at schools with a religious affiliation. When Snowbarger reiterated his OPPOSITION to school vouchers, pointing out how he’d always voted against such proposals while in the Kansas legislature, the questioner was non-plussed.
Vince explained his position that government funding meant government control and that private and parochial schools had to maintain their independence, even if that meant foregoing financial support from the government. All the questioner could say in response was, “I don’t care what you say, I know how you really feel about supporting religious institutions with tax payer money!”
I thought of that vivid example of opinionated ignorance recently when reading two recent pieces in The Kansas City Star.
The first one appeared on October 15th written by the inimitable Mary Sanchez. The article, “Education Policy Has Hurt Several Generations,” argues that declining test scores by American students relative to students in other countries are the result of a conscious decision by “an elite.”
Nowhere is the elite identified or defined by Sanchez. Are we talking a political elite? A financial elite? A legal elite? A cultural or intellectual elite? Could you please give some examples?
However I think I know who Sanchez means, i.e., whoever disagrees with the K.C. Star Editorial Board, that is, people like me! What have we elitists done to warrant this attack? We’ve set out to remake our country “into a plutocracy.” How? Again, I can only guess but I’d say we favor a top marginal income tax bracket of 35%, versus the 39.6% rate favored by the Party of Workers, Peasants, and Intellectuals.
I never understood how if the problem was that a larger and larger share of the national income, pre-tax, was going to those at the very top of the income scale, this would be altered by a modest increase in the top income tax rates. If a no talent twerp like Justin Bieber makes $55 million a year, will he get paid any smaller share of the national income just because his taxes go up? Will he earn less money (deserved or not) just because the taxes on what he earns go up slightly?
I know why so many are outraged that the CEO of McDonald’s made $13.5 million last year while workers at the restaurant chain make $7 or $8 an hour. But why aren’t people equally outraged that our boy Justin B. took home a cool 55 big ones and Dr. Dre of headphone fame made $110,000,000 last year? Why is anger at the plutocracy so selective in its application? (I won’t even mention the Kardashians!)
Sanchez goes onto conclude that part of the plutocratic project has been the degradation of our public education systems, specifically any policy that aims to produce equality of outcomes. She claims that other countries do a better job of ensuring “equitable educational outcomes.” Nowhere is there any attempt to specifically identify how “this elite,” wages war against policies that foster “equal” or “equitable” (assumed to be one and the same) outcomes.
I guess it has to do with favoring “Adjectives Over Arguments,” the heading of Sanchez’s article, but I’m not sure what that phrase means either. (Don’t you use adjectives to make arguments? How are the two word antonyms?)
I believe the logic of Ms. Sanchez’s article could be summed up as: “Rich People are Bad Because They Want to Keep Their Money and Not Give It To The Democratic Party to Buy Votes.” Ninety percent of the editorial positions of the Star could be explicated in that pithy apothegm.
As a guide to public policy it’s a little vague, even though it has a satisfying emotional clarity to it. For a fuller explication, you had to wait until November 12th, when the Star ran a second opinion piece by a N.Y. Times writer, Eduardo Porter. This time, the message came with admirable directness:
“Public Schools Still Favor The Rich”
Mr. Porter tells us that; “public resources devoted to education lean so decisively in favor of the better off.” He reiterates the point that; “(A)s income and wealth continue to flow to the richest families in the richest neighborhoods, public education appears to be more of a force contributing to the inequality of income and opportunity, rather than helping to relieve it.”
Porter concludes that gaps in educational achievement and in the resulting economic inequality between the rich and poor will only get worse until the “lopsided funding of education changes.”
Although both Porter and Sanchez purport to address the situation in Kansas and Missouri, these descriptions have no relation to the reality here. In fact, for years the whole thrust of state politics in these two states (and in virtually every other state I’m familiar with) has been to alleviate the disparity between levels of educational funding in school districts serving the rich and the poor.
This trend started in Kansas more than forty years ago with the filing of Caldwell v. State, a Johnson County District Court case. As a result of the decision in the trial court, the Kansas legislature passed the School District Equalization Act, which tried to rectify funding differences between districts based on their wealth. Over the next four decades there have been a series of court decisions (e.g. Montoy v. State, I, II, III & IV),usually issued out of Shawnee County District Court,usually involving Judge Terry Bullock of that Court.
The net effect of all these cases has been to have the Kansas judiciary order the Kansas legislature to increase taxes for and spending on education. For example education spending has increased by 2.5 billion dollars from 1998 to 2011 (from 3.1 billion to 5.6 billion) as a result of these court ordered mandates.
Taxes have increased dramatically in Johnson County to pay to bring the rest of the state up to the standard of a “suitable” and “appropriate” education. Sales taxes are now near New York City levels in several municipalities. Real property taxes in Johnson County have gone up twelve fold, and now are significantly higher than expensive areas like the Hamptons of Long Island. The Kansas State income tax rates are high compared to surrounding states in our region, and for years were even higher than a blue state like Illinois.
All this has been done with the goal of equalizing education spending throughout the state between poor districts (e.g. Kansas City, Kansas) and rich ones (e.g. Blue Valley).
At the same time all this was going on in the Sunflower State, the Show-Me State was going through its own process of educational leveling. The Kansas City school desegregation case started in federal court (the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri) in 1977. Judge Russell Clark, like his Jayhawk counter-part Terry Bullock, has repeatedly issued rulings requiring increases in taxes and spending state wide to dramatically increase funding for Kansas City, Missouri public schools. Since the same process was underway in St. Louis, the end result was that 44% of the educational spending in Missouri was going to two school districts that enrolled only 10% of the students.
Leaving aside the question of what the citizens of Kansas and Missouri got for their 10 billion dollars of court ordered spending, how can anyone claim that all this expenditure of time and resources was a cruel hoax by “the rich” or “the elite” to cheat poor children?
The constant use of the term “the narrative” (a prime example of literary jargon) by liberal commentators is actually very useful in explaining this seeming disconnect. The term is simply a pretentious academic way of saying “my story” or “my version of what happened.” What the factual record actually shows is less important than their version of what happened.
Like the cretinous supporter of Dr. Bob M. (the left-of-center answer to Jerry Falwell), don’t confuse them with the facts! It’s “the narrative” that matters, the politically correct depiction of history rather than the actual record. Only publications like the K.C. Star and N.Y. Times could get away with such mendacity