- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Wichita Eagle, Oct. 6

No options should be ruled out in school funding dilemma

Statehouse Republicans quickly ruled out another tax increase as part of another attempted fix for Kansas’ school funding formula.

They should have stepped back and taken a deep breath. We believe all avenues should be considered before any are rejected.

That shouldn’t be interpreted as an endorsement of a tax increase, simply acknowledgment that legislators face a complex problem.

In kicking the funding formula back to the Legislature for another attempt, the Kansas Supreme Court’s 88-page ruling in the Gannon case again came down to two words: inadequate, inequitable.

The $485 million lawmakers put to K-12 school funding this year and next wasn’t enough. The court also had problems with the equity part of the formula, which is supposed to make funding similar between the state’s poorer and financially healthier districts.

Critics justifiably wondered what it would take to please the court, because the court disappointingly offers unclear targets. But given that the Legislature is bound by the state constitution to adequately fund education, the court is the overseer and - again - said Kansas came up short.

Reaching another formula now joins a 2018 legislative agenda that includes other funding problems:

? A prison system that has been rocked with problems, including retaining corrections officers, skirmishes in at least three facilities, and disruptions that will continue as replacement of the aging Lansing Correctional Facility begins.

? A Kansas Bureau of Investigation that is tracking increases in violent crime with a smaller, overworked staff.

Add in other state agencies and programs that have been neglected during the past five years of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment and it makes for the biggest legislative session in years - a recurring title.

Complicating it all? That 2018 is an election year.

If you live in a district represented by someone who voted to override Brownback’s veto of a tax hike in the spring, you no doubt have received a mailer criticizing the lawmaker for the largest tax hike in Kansas history. (Tax rates are still lower than they were in 2011, but OK.)

Immense pressure will be on lawmakers during the next session. The more moderate Republicans who voted to increase taxes will feel pressure not to do it again, fearing challenges from more conservative primary candidates.

It’s where we may see the strength of the moderate Republicans’ resolve, as well as the voters who put them there. We will also get a look at Jeff Colyer’s leadership as he moves from lieutenant governor to governor - months before he’s on the GOP primary ballot.

Colyer and lawmakers realize there are generally only three solutions to provide more funding for schools: raise taxes, cut spending or some combination of both.

Spending cuts should be part of any solution, as long as they’re justifiable and not part of essential programs.

The school-funding formula fix is made more difficult by timing. The state Supreme Court wants a formula from lawmakers by April 30. That would be four months into the legislative session, and at first glance enough time to create a solution.

But lawmakers have been good at putting off work on school funding. It’s not an option anymore, as long as they want to comply with the court’s ruling.

Many Republican lawmakers are understandably frustrated. They achieved a Herculean feat in June by overriding the governor’s veto to raise tax rates. They hoped the weight of the achievement - and $485 million - would be enough for the court.

It wasn’t. The ruling said the money and new formula made strides. More strides are needed now. Lawmakers know there are few ways for finding the hundreds of millions expected to be part of a solution.

No options should be off the table.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 8

Be wary of increasing crime rates, but recognize that there’s no reason to panic

The United States is a less violent place than it was a quarter of a century ago. According to FBI statistics, the rate of violent crime in our country fell by around 50 percent between 1993 and 2015. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (which includes both reported and unreported crimes) found an even more dramatic decline over the same period: 77 percent. Although violent crime rates have collapsed since 1993, 21 Gallup polls have found that substantial majorities of Americans consistently report that violence is actually increasing.

There are many reasons for this stubborn misperception - from a 24-hour news cycle that emphasizes violence and chaos over practically everything else to improvements in communications technology that allow us to see horrific violence in graphic detail. Atrocities like the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Orlando also skew our perception and terrify us, but these are extremely low-frequency events that account for a tiny fraction of the overall violent crime rate in the U.S. Of course, it doesn’t help to have a president who falsely asserts that the murder rate is higher than it has been in 47 years.

All of that said, violent crime has actually increased over the past few years - particularly the murder rate. Between 2014 and 2015, the FBI reported a 3 percent rise in overall violent crime and a 10 percent spike in the murder rate. These numbers continued to climb from 2015 to 2016. And Kansas hasn’t been exempt from this disturbing aberration. According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, our state’s murder rate surged by 46.5 percent between 2014 and 2016, and there were more murders last year than at any point since 2000. Meanwhile, the overall violent crime rate increased by 15.6 percent.

As if these alarming statistics weren’t bad enough, the KBI has far fewer resources than it needs to investigate the increasing number of violent crimes in the state. In 2009, the bureau had 98 agent positions, but that number has fallen to 74 for this fiscal year. This means the agents have been forced to work much longer hours - since 2012, the amount of money allocated to overtime pay has increased by 733 percent. It also means the KBI has been unable to investigate as many crimes. As KBI executive officer Katie Whisman explains, “We currently have twice as many active, open homicides as we do people to investigate them.”

Whisman also says the KBI has six investigators in its child victims unit, which means it can now only accept Jessica’s Law cases - as she puts it, “Quite simply, we’re running out of people.” Moreover, there were 157 aggravated sex offenses in jurisdictions with no official investigators last year. While this doesn’t mean they’re being ignored, the KBI would be better able to assist small agencies if it had more resources. According to Kansas law enforcement lobbyist Ed Klumpp, these agencies often don’t have the tools or expertise to investigate major crimes such as human trafficking, child pornography and cybercrimes.

Although we shouldn’t indulge statistically illiterate hysteria about what Trump describes as “American carnage,” nor should we ignore the serious increase in violent crime that Kansas has witnessed since 2014. Yes, there has been remarkable decline in violence over the past few decades, but we must do everything possible to maintain this trend (especially as crime rates tick back up). Making sure law enforcement agencies like the KBI have the resources they need is a good place to start.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 9

Though low morale at KU needs to be addressed, the faculty is among the best paid in the region.

Concerns raised by University of Kansas professors last week about low pay don’t square with data from the American Association of University Professors.

At a meeting of KU’s AAUP chapter last week, some professors raised concerns that morale at the university is suffering from low pay and the continued shift in financial resources to administration and athletics.

“Low pay is a big thing,” KU professor Ron Barrett-Gonzalez said during the meeting. “We’re seeing a lot of administrative bloat, which is very troubling. Because, as our pay is getting cut, cut, cut, they’re spending more on the (football) stadium and more on themselves in the administration, and weakening the strength of the entire faculty at the same time.”

Barrett-Gonzalez, a professor of aerospace engineering and president of the AAUP chapter, said he spent the last summer collecting national AAUP data that showed the average total salary for KU faculty has dropped by 9 percent since 2009.

During the same time, he said the average annual salary of KU’s top 20 administrators has increased by more than $35,000, according to data from the American Association of University Professors’ Academe journal and state payroll records.

“This is a deliberate decision by the central administration to divert funds away from faculty and to other offices,” said Jonathan Clark, a Hall distinguished professor of British history at KU.

Clark and Barrett-Gonzalez said the pay discrepancies could jeopardize KU’s membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.

But membership in the AAU aside, AAUP data also shows that faculty members at Kansas are by far the best compensated university employees in Kansas and have among the highest salaries of schools in the Big 12 and the region.

According to the 2016-17 AAUP Faculty Compensation Survey, faculty salaries at KU increased anywhere from 1.4 percent to 3.5 percent in the past year and range from $79,400 for assistant professors to $130,400 for full professors. Kansas State faculty is a distant second with average salaries of $73,600 for assistant professors and $111,200 for full professors. And Kansas has far more professors at the higher end of the pay scale. Kansas employs 173 more full professors and 99 more associate professors than Kansas State, which employs 87 more assistant professors than Kansas.

Professors at KU earn more on average than their colleagues at fellow Big 12 members Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia, and their salaries are comparable to those at Iowa State. KU professor salaries also are higher than what professors earn at other universities in neighboring states including the University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, University of Tulsa and Colorado State University.

Overall, salaries for KU faculty rank among the top 20 percent of salaries at the 1,000 colleges and universities in the AAUP survey.

Concerns about low morale expressed by Barrett-Gonzalez and Clark should not be dismissed. The university’s recent announcement that it is seeking $350 million in private donations to upgrade Memorial Stadium and other athletic facilities certainly could be perceived by faculty as an increased emphasis on athletics at the expense of academics.

One way to address such perceptions is to point out that KU faculty members not only have the best compensation among colleges and universities in Kansas, but also they have among the highest salaries in the region and nation.

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