Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius contended Monday that Kansas has fallen short of its obligation to public schools and that Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies have failed to generate economic growth.
The former Democratic governor and Obama cabinet secretary spoke at a reception for five of the state’s Supreme Court justices Monday shortly before the Legislature began its session. She had been an outspoken advocate for the justices, who were retained by voters and sworn in for their new terms Monday.
Sebelius weighed in on a variety of topics, including the state’s budget problems and school finance.
“I think it’s important to look at the essential services that the state provides and one of them clearly is education,” Sebelius said when asked about her advice for incoming lawmakers. “We have embedded in our constitution a responsibility for adequate, equitable education for our children, and we’re not doing it.”
Brownback’s spokeswoman dismissed Sebelius’ statements and said the governor will continue to work to make Kansas the best state in which to raise a family.
The court is expected to rule soon on whether the state adequately funds schools.
The case began when education funding was cut under Sebelius’ Democratic successor, Mark Parkinson, during the height of the recession. Sebelius blamed Brownback’s tax policy for what she considers underfunding of schools and other essential services.
“You can’t deliver the services people expect – transportation, education, healthcare, human services – without revenue. And the revenue in this state has been slashed,” Sebelius said. “And I hope that there will be some serious attention to restoring some of the revenue streams that were there before and then funding the services that people rely on.”
“Nobody lives in Kansas because of the mountains or the ocean,” she continued. “They come to Kansas for quality of life, for services and for schools. And the fact that we are now losing citizens, who are moving out of Johnson County, which had some of the best schools in the country, and across the river to Missouri because the schools are better – I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. But that’s occurring.”
Sebelius said Kansas trails the nation and neighboring states in job growth.
“We’re not gaining jobs. We’re losing population…so all of the supposed benefits of this tax experiment are failures,” she said.
Kansas population growth has slowed, but the state saw a population increase of 568 people last year. The state has added 54,160 people since 2010, a cumulative growth rate of 1.9 percent.
Brownback’s spokeswoman, Melika Willoughby, said Kansas continues to draw more residents from Missouri than it loses to that state.
“As the primary architect of Obamacare, Secretary Sebelius is well acquainted with failure,” Willoughby said in a statement. “The launch of HealthCare.gov was the most spectacular government failure in decades. Kansas schools, however, are among the best in the nation, with Blue Valley schools scoring the 2nd highest in the world on recent math and science assessments. As Kansas continues to draw in residents from Missouri, Governor Brownback will continue working to make Kansas the best state in America to raise a family and grow a business.”
Brownback has vigorously defended the tax plan against criticism, noting in December that congressional Republicans are looking to implement elements of the plan on a national level.
Sebelius, who served as President Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services and oversaw the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also warned against congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal the ACA before they’ve crafted a replacement.
“I find it troubling. I think it’s fair for the American people to say, show us a plan…let us compare it side by side before 20 million people lose their health coverage,” Sebelius said.