In presentation to NEJC Conservatives, KPI president takes issue with positive reputation of Kansas schools

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert was the featured speaker at April's Northeast Johnson County Conservatives meeting.
Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert was the featured speaker at April’s Northeast Johnson County Conservatives meeting.

Saying the notion that the Kansas budget had been “cut to the bone” was a “big fat joke,” Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert argued during an appearance in northeast Johnson County Tuesday that the only way to halt the growth of state government spending was to reduce tax revenues.

“There’s only one thing that determines how much any government has to tax,” he said. “That’s how much it chooses to spend.”

Before a group of around four dozen people assembled for a presentation put on by the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives at O’Neill’s in Leawood, Trabert presented a wealth of statistics that framed Kansas’s current budget issues in the context of controlling what he categorized as out-of-control growth. State general fund spending, he said, had been around $1 billion per year above inflation between 1995 and 2005.

Acknowledging the controversy surrounding the impact of the 2012 tax cuts, Trabert said it was impossible to truly account for how KPI’s tax plan recommendations would have played out because the organization included a one-time 8 percent cut in government spending to go along with the income tax cuts. Kansas government, he said, had made the tax cuts, but not the corresponding 8 percent cut in spending.

Trabert also used the forum to take issue with Kansas public schools’ reputation for producing excellent student outcomes. A look at the performance of low-income students in the state suggests otherwise, he said.

“The truth is Kansas is about average overall in a country that doesn’t perform very well,” he said.

Trabert said KPI is working to promote charter schools and corporate scholarship programs as ways to provide better education opportunities to low-income families. He also chided school districts for building up operating cash reserves, saying that it was akin to taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets and stashing it in the bank, providing no benefit to communities.

As for the notion that Kansas public schools needed more money to provide an adequate education to all students, Trabert said that until schools can prove they operate efficiently, taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to put more money into the system — particularly considering the amount needed to fulfill the Supreme Court’s adequacy requirement is unknown.

“It’s like a child coming to you and saying, mom and dad, you didn’t give me enough money to get home,” he said. “‘Well, where are you?’ ‘I don’t know, I don’t know where home is. But I know I don’t have enough money to get there.’ From a legal perspective, if you can’t define where you need to be, you have no legal basis to say I don’t have enough money to get there.”

Johnson County legislators Mary Pilcher-Cook, Keith Esau and Jeff Melcher all attended the presentation.