Kansas embarked on an experiment with radical right-wing policies since Governor Sam Brownback (R) was elected in 2010, and it failed miserably. The centerpiece of the project, led by Governor Sam Brownback, was huge tax cuts, largely for wealthy individuals and businesses, based on the Republican orthodoxy that tax cuts create jobs.
Now, a teacher shortage appears to be the latest consequence of Kansas’ abject failure to manage its economy. It’s not hard to see why teachers don’t want to work in Kansas.
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
While the tax cut experiment didn’t create jobs, it did destroy the Kansas budget, and one major consequence of that has been massive funding cuts for Kansas schools. Several districts ended the school year early for lack of funds. Education funding levels are so low, and unequal across school districts, that judges have ruled them unconstitutional and the case is currently pending at the state Supreme Court.
Kansas’ teacher pay is among the lowest in the nation. The Kansas legislature has removed teachers’ tenure protections, tried to make it possible to criminally prosecute them for teaching offensive material, and attempted to weaken collective bargaining. Teachers are retiring in fear that the state will soon target their retirement benefits, one superintendent from a nearby Missouri school district said.
There are double the normal openings for school staff in Kansas, teachers are quitting and retiring at high rates, and new teachers aren’t looking to start careers in Kansas. The Independence, Missouri School District has billboards to lure teachers from over the border, and they’ve seen an doubling in applicants with Kansas addresses, even as applicants from Iowa and Arkansas have held steady.
A piece of legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) now allows several Kansas school systems to hire unlicensed teachers to fill the gap.