It seems as if the utter failure of Governor Sam Brownback’s radical conservative economic “experiment” (as he terms it) in Kansas, hasn’t resonated with adjoining Red State to the south, Oklahoma.  Up in Kansas there is no need to await an allegorical “jury verdict” to judge the failure of the brand of radical economics that Brownback has adopted.  Even his own Republican controlled state legislature has been pushing back – with limited success thus far – against the damage his policies have wrecked upon the good citizens of “The Sunflower State.”   The four year old “experiment” of cutting taxes, exempting 300,000 small businesses from paying taxes, and eventually phasing out all income taxes to be replaced by a consumption tax, was supposed to generate millions of new jobs and spur the creation of a tsunami of entrepreneurial small business enterprises.  What it's actually done is plunged Kansas into one fiscal crisis after another and there's no end in sight.  

Kansas’ “real live experiment” in fiscal policy was intended to be a model of the Republican, small government, low or on tax philosophy just like what has been advocated by the Tea Party, Paul Ryan, the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives in Washington.   But now nearly five years into quadruple down slashing taxes to create a Midwest nirvana, revenues dropped immediately, and dramatically—much faster than legislators could, or would have imagined.  The income tax had accounted for 50 percent of the state’s revenue, said Haley Pollock of the group “Kansas Action for Children,” which is part of a coalition pushing to reverse Brownback’s tax cuts. “When his tax plan went into effect, there was an immediate structural revenue imbalance,” she said. What followed were nine rounds of budget cuts over four years, three credit downgrades, missed state payments, and an ongoing atmosphere of fiscal crisis. “It’s really hard to argue that the income tax cuts weren't the source of our problems when most of our problems started at the same time that they took effect,” Pollock said.

And those millions of jobs this conservative “fiscal experiment” was supposed to bring to the people of Kansas beginning five years ago?  Kansas ranks 45th out of the 50 states that comprise the United States of America.    Tax cuts and tax policy in general,  don't happen in a vacuum.  Tax policies actually do reverberate right down to ordinary citizens like school students, for example, or folks who are disabled or the elderly.   

Now comes Oklahoma.   One would think that with the respective capitals of each state less than 300 miles apart, there might have been a few news reports about the hell that is happening up in Kansas.  But apparently not.  As up north in Kansas where public school budgets have been slashed to make up for declining revenues, Oklahoma too has cut income taxes and taxes on the oil and gas industry, the state’s largest industry and has embarked on years of conservative fiscal policies.  The “Sooner State” is facing a $900 million budget shortfall as a result.  So, where do the Republican led state legislature look to closing this nearly $1 billion gap?  Public Education.  Funds for the state’s public schools have been shrinking for years.  As a result, class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign language programs have virtually disappeared, needed textbooks cannot be purchased, teachers haven’t had a raise since 2008 (this is nearly a solid decade) and average teacher salaries are $44,128, which ranks Oklahoma 49th among our 50 states.  The state spends about $8,000 per student ranking it just above Arizona, Idaho and Utah who round out the bottom three. 

There have been a plethora of other negative impacts of continual tax cuts in the Kansas mold: rural hospital have closed,  prisons are filled way beyond capacity, roads and bridges are a mess and the public education system has borne a lot of the cuts.  But most glaringly are the four day school weeks adopted by many Oklahoma school districts in attempts to keep them fiscally afloat in the face of statewide funding cuts.    

 But, here’s the kicker: Over the past few years, 56 school districts have been forced to cut the school week down to four days rather than five.  44 more are considering the same move. 

 Why the education of our children seems to be “optional” in Kansas and Oklahoma is a mystery to me.  But this attitude – when facing a budget crisis, slash funding for public education – might go some distance in explaining why it is that the United States ranks 25th in Science behind such nations as Estonia, Vietnam, and Slovenia; 24th in Reading and 39th in Math according to the latest (2015) data from OECD.  Singapore tops the charts in all three categories.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development began testing15 year old students around the world in 1997 to measure proficiency in reading, math and science.  The PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests have become the gold standard when it comes to measuring student development around the world.  The United States has not fared well for the past few decades in comparison to other developed nations. 

America’s dismal rankings?  It’s become a habit.  Two decades ago, in 2000 when the first PISA results were published, the United States students finished 15th in reading, 19th in math and 14th in science in the study that only ranked 31 nations. It was assumed, following World War II until more scientific data emerged, that the U.S. ranked better than our European counterparts.  So what’s gone wrong?  Well, conservative apologists will tell you that it’s because the U.S. has such a diverse population so it’s much more difficult to provide top quality education to everyone.  They also will tell you that it’s because of social economic disparities that other nations do not have.  BULLSHIT!

What’s happened is that beginning in the 1980’s (I hate to do this to you again) “choice” was the national watchword.  It’s why Ronald Reagan de-regulated the airline industry to give us consumers more "choice."  (Yeah, that turned real well, didn’t it?)  It was the same rationale used to justify unleashing corporations from “job killing” gubment regulations so that the Free Market could give us more choice.  (Socialist India, just as an aside, has literally a couple dozen cell phone providers.  We here in Free Market Heaven have, what? four.) 

This “choice” movement also began to be applied to public education: “School Choice.” Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Freidman (the same guy, by the way, who brought us our current Chicago School of Conservative Economics which have crushed America’s working and middle classes) championed “school choice” to bring competitive excellence to our public education system.  Private religious schools proliferated and home schooling became an acceptable means substituting for public school attendance.  The Freedom of School Choice battle cry eventually culminated in school systems across the country adopting vouchers where parents could send their kids to privately run schools at taxpayers expense.  Vouchers generally give funds collected from property taxes used for maintaining public school to parents who then enroll their kids in private schools. 

Since the home schooling, school choice, voucher movement (in essence the privatization of our public educational system) produced what are called “mixed” results.  Studies have shown that, on average, voucher supported students fared only marginally better and most and often no better than public school students.  This is rather surprising since private voucher schools can select from among a pool of students while de-selecting for “problem” or “dumb” students.  In the South, voucher programs have been used to re-segregate – or keep segregated – local school systems.  With the not so wonderful data results from voucher programs, we have a plethora of other “reforms” like “No Child Left Behind,” Common Core and standardized testing that the Milton Freidman Free Market privatization cabal has strongly resisted.  They believe that the Unfettered Free Market system as applied to public education will result in educational Nirvana in the U.S.  But the facts simply don't bear this out.    

But there can be no arguing against the dismal, declining achievement results of American students.  It's simply a fact.   Reading, math and science scores have been steadily declining for decades.  For me, I think it’s a result of the famously convenient strategy of Republicans/Conservatives/Right Wingers: Denial and Deflection.   Denial that race relations are a problem, denial that cutting taxes really doesn’t create jobs, that unfettered Free Market Economics (See: Kansas and Oklahoma) are not the best means of supporting a healthy, full employment society; Denial that Black Lives Matter actually makes a valid point; denial about our disaster that is student achievement.

Rather than all the efforts to evade the public education problems we actually face like classroom violence, for example, or students graduating high school with a 6th grade reading level, or folks fleeing public schools because of racial intolerance, draining public school systems of funds through voucher programs, or paying attention to our pubic schools rather than avoiding the problems we face, maybe our OECD, PISA scores might have at least leveled off rather than continuing down the slope of declining educational attainment.  The right wing conveniently provides "solutions" that are not solutions at all but are simply catchy slogans that have no relevance to reality but are easily and widely dispersed as campaign dogma that sound wonderful.   

And by the way, our shitty results are not the result of not spending money on our public schools.  The U.S. spends more on education than any but four OECD nations. 

We are not getting our money’s worth.  It’s way past time that we take the public education situation in hand and solve it. 


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