As the debate over the funding of Kansas public schools goes on, sometimes facts get lost in the shuffle, and school spending advocates sometimes invent “facts” in order to score political points by criticizing those working to bring inconvenient facts to light.
Besides spending advocates, journalists can get caught up in this. In a recent news story in the Hays Daily News, the paper reported a claim made by Linda Kenne, Victoria USD 432 superintendent. Here it is:
One particular corporation seems to drive the efforts. Kenne said, “Koch Industries’ address is the same as the Kansas Policy Institute.” “Do you want the state to be owned by Koch Industries?” she asked.
The reporter of this story, Dawne Leiker, quoted a government official who said something. I guess that constitutes news. But responsible reporting and journalism requires that there be at least some factual basis underlying the statement, or the reporter needs to say so. In this case, the facts are that the two organizations do not share the same address.
It’s worth noting that Leiker writes for the leftist blogs Everyday Citizen and Kansas Free Press. At Everyday Citizen you may read her poem Ode to Conservatism, in which she likens conservatives to “pit bulls, bedecked with luscious lips” who are offended by the existence of poor people, and that opportunity goes to those who beg for it, presumably from rich conservatives.
It’s tempting to feel a little empathy for school spending advocates like superintendent Kenne, as Kansas Policy Institute has uncovered and given publicity to large fund balances that schools could be using if they want to. And it’s not just KPI that says so. Kansas Deputy Commissioner of Schools Dale Dennis agrees.
But that’s not an excuse for playing fast and loose with facts.
Kenne may be taking her cue from the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union). It, along with the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), is at the forefront of defending the status quo in Kansas public school spending — that being a rapid rise. Their lobbyists and publications also show little regard for facts when scoring political points by criticizing those who uncover facts inconvenient for them.
As an example, a recent edition of “Under the Dome Today” referred to the “Kansas Policy Institute whose board of directors includes Koch Industries executives.” The facts are that of the members of the KPI Board of Trustees, two are former Koch industries employees. Neither has worked there for many years.
Misreporting simple facts like this should give us reason to question the facts used to support their larger and more important arguments.
Underlying this is the puzzle as to why Wichita-based Koch Industries is the subject of so much criticism from Kansas school spending advocates. With some 2,100 employees in Wichita and owning a large amount of property, Koch Industries and its employees pay many millions in taxes that go to school districts and other functions of government.
The company is involved in other ways, too. In 1991, Charles and Elizabeth Koch founded (and a Koch Family Foundation continues to fund) Youth Entrepreneurs Kansas, which “teaches free enterprise fundamentals through hands-on experiences and encourages students to start their own business, enhance their business skills for future career opportunities and continue into higher education.” YEK is present in many Wichita and surrounding area public schools.
As another example of Koch Foundation generosity, a page on the Wichita public school website tells of Education EDGE Koch Focus mini-grants given to support classroom projects in several areas.
Further, a recent letter appearing in the Wichita Eagle told of this: “Thanks to the support of USD 259’s administration, the financial generosity of the Koch foundation, and the expertise of Gilder Lehrman and the Bill of Rights Institute, programs such as these are having a profound positive impact on history and civics education.”
We need to carefully examine the facts and arguments advanced by school spending advocates. They could also learn to say “thank you” now and then.