Wichita school bond issue: “But I didn’t have kids 20 years ago”


“I agree, but I didn’t have kids 20 years ago.”

A statement like this, uttered by a member of Citizens Alliance For Responsible Education, a group that supports a bond issue for USD 259, the Wichita public school district, illustrates the fact that the proposed bond issue is, plain and simple, a measure that benefits special interests.

The speaker said that in response to people telling him the Wichita school district needs improvements that “should have been done 20 years ago.” (“Bond supporters launch planning,” Wichita Eagle, March 9, 2008)

Evidently this speaker feels that when he didn’t have children in the Wichita public schools, supporting the schools wasn’t much of a concern to him. Now that he does have children in the public schools, things have changed. Now he is interested and concerned. Now he wants everyone else to support his cause — including people in the same position he was in 20 years ago, when he didn’t care.

This is an illustration of a special interest matter. If public schools were truly a general interest matter, this person wouldn’t have changed his mind just because his personal situation changed.

Special interest politics creates a contest between the interests of one group and everyone else. Usually these battles are fought in the halls of legislatures and municipal buildings. The participants are lobbyists and elected officials or regulators, although it isn’t clear if there is much divergence of interest between these two parties. The Wichita school bond issue, however, is being decided by the voters.

Special interest groups are often able to have their way because the things they want have dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. That is, the benefit being sought by the special interest group – the swimming pools, tennis courts, etc. — are of great value to a few very interested groups. They are very motivated to get the public at large to fund their interests.

The cost to everyone else, though, is often small. Bond issue supporters campaign on this, with their claim that the cost of the bond is just $.11 per day for the owner of a $100,000 house.

That’s how the supporters of special interest projects win. The cost of the bond issue is relatively small for any one person or family. Many people may oppose the issue, but since its cost is small, they may not be very motivated to oppose it, even through an act a simple as voting. For the special interest supporters, however, the extra spending matters very much. They are very motivated to work to get the bond issue passed.


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