Mark Tallman, assistant executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), is arguing that spending on education is more important to a state than moderate tax rates. He makes this case in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal article Education a key to prosperity.
As reported: “Tallman said action next year by Kansas lawmakers to cut spending rather than increase investment in education through tax hikes would weaken student instruction and damage prospects of long term growth in the economy.”
There are several problems with Tallman’s reasoning. First, high-tax states are suffering compared to low-tax states. A recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council reports on what’s happening to high-tax states. Citing California, the report states:
Defenders of the high-tax and high-spending conditions that precipitated this fall into the economic cellar argue that big government policies and taxes on the wealthy are necessary to protect the poor and the disadvantaged. Yet when flight occurs away from an area, it is always the highest achievers and those with the most wealth, capital and entrepreneurial drive who tend to “get out of Dodge” first, leaving the middle class, and then eventually only the poor and disadvantaged behind. In fact, it is only those individuals with wealth who have the means and thus the ability to choose where they will reside. Consequently, the poor are left victims of the misguided liberal policies that were enacted to assist them.
Tallman is one of these defenders of high taxes and high spending. As the Capital-Journal article reported: “Nationally, [Tallman] said, high income states were more likely to be high tax states — not the reverse.”
The problem is that Tallman has the chain of events backwards. Wealthy states like New York were wealthy before they became high tax states. Now, as taxes rise in these states — and many of these are looking to raise taxes even more to combat budget deficits — the wealthy in these states are leaving, taking their tax payments with them.
We must avoid this flight of wealth in Kansas. We should be enacting policies that will attract high-tax state refugees. But when they read special interest lobbyists like Tallman calling for higher taxes, well, it doesn’t do much to attract people and capital to Kansas.
I might not be so harsh on Tallman’s advocacy if what he wants — dramatically increased spending on public schools in Kansas — was a worthwhile goal. But it’s becoming apparent that in Kansas, that after years of rapidly rising spending on schools, we have little to show for it. This is important to recognize, because one thing Tallman says is true: Education is vitally important.
Yes, our education commissioner and many local school districts claim rising test scores. This is at the same time that Kansas scores on the federal tests are flat, or rising only slowly. See Are Kansas school test scores believable? for an explanation.
If Mr. Tallman was truly concerned about the education of Kansas children rather than the special interests of the groups he lobbies for (the above-mentioned KASB and Kansas National Education Association or KNEA, the teachers union), he could do a few things that would absolutely make a difference.
First: These rising test scores, are they real? If the KASB and KNEA would call for an independent audit or investigation of these tests, we could then have some confidence that the claimed rise in performance is valid.
Then, he could realize that what would give vitality to education in Kansas is what’s working in other states: charter schools and other school choice programs. Tallman and his groups consistently and ferociously beat down any attempt to introduce these innovations in Kansas. Even President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are promoting charter schools.
Also, differential pay for teachers — another idea that Obama and Duncan promote — would accomplish several things, such as giving truly accomplished and effective teachers recognition for their achievements. It also would give credence to the idea that teachers are professionals, recognition that teachers ask for at the same time they are represented by a labor union that strips away the responsibilities that accompany professionalism.