Extraordinary needs – Kansas school districts have long since learned that it’s tough to get money from the state. Meeting students’ needs may even have gotten more difficult with the Legislature’s adoption of the block-grant school funding method, which gives short shrift to real-life issues such as enrollment increases and steep drops in property value. There is some emergency assistance now available: $12.3 million. Trouble is, 38 school districts, including the Manhattan-Ogden district, have put in requests that exceed $15 million. We don’t doubt that all of these districts’ needs are extraordinary. What seems extraordinary is that the Legislature, which is required by the state constitution to ensure an adequate education for Kansas children, would allow some of these extraordinary needs to go unmet.
Pension bonds – Kansas lawmakers might have been pleased they barely satisfied the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget by the end of the record-long session, but the cobbled-together numbers are not being greeted generously by the market. Moody’s Investors Service certainly wasn’t impressed with the state’s decision to borrow $1 billion in order to make payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. A spokesman with Moody’s said the plan is fraught with risk. The state is in a precarious position.
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It’s hard to have a lot of confidence that the Brownback administration’s strategy to shore up the troubled Kansas Public Employees Retirement System will work as well as state officials predict. Supporters of the $1 billion bond issue compare the move to using a lower-interest loan to pay off a higher-interest credit card, which seems like a strategy that would mostly be used by someone who already was struggling with too much debt.
Medicaid expansion – As rural hospitals face extraordinary financial challenges, current leadership in the state capital doesn’t seem to care. There’s really no other way to explain the failure of Gov. Sam Brownback and his GOP legislative allies to expand Medicaid and help hospitals in western Kansas and other rural parts, as well as many Kansans. Kansas’ extreme-right faction would rather push back against anything Obama, regardless of the harm to needy Kansans and struggling rural hospitals.
Child support – Kansas privatized its child support collection system in 2013, and collections fell from 55.79 percent of current support owed to 54.04 percent in 2014. Collections reportedly have increased this year, but clearly there still is much work to do and a lot of unpaid child support out there to collect. According to state figures, more than $100 million in child support goes unpaid each year. There is no excuse for that.
Prison dog program – Yet another valuable prisoner rehabilitation program has been eliminated at Hutchinson Correctional Facility, and scarce state resources may be the reason, if even indirectly. The prison has ended its therapy dog program because of a worker shortage and need to reassign the officer in charge to mission-critical security duties. This is a shame, as the program always was one of the most inspirational at the prison. It was a great service to the disabled population, but it also was life-enriching for the inmates involved.