The big news of Tuesday's State of the State address was not just that it was given by Gov. Sam Brownback, who began relinquishing responsibilities to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer after announcing more than six months ago he had been nominated for ambassador of religious freedom by the Trump administration, but that he spoke of an additional $600 million over five years into school funding without a tax increase to pay for it.

"I don't understand where the money is going to come from," Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) told the Topeka Capital-Journal. 

"I like puppies, and I like unicorns, but you know, I don't know what the substance of this proposal actually looks like," said Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), adding that it "appeared to be driven by political interests and crafted to elicit good feelings and applause lines on his way out the door." 

Brownback referred to school finance as the biggest issue of the 2018 legislative session. His proposal included $600 million during the next five years to bolster K-12 school funding. This includes $87 million already approved by the Legislature and expands next fiscal year's contribution to $200 million with an additional $100 million annually for the next four years. 

Budget director Shawn Sullivan began making the rounds with the budget blueprint Wednesday. He said the budget would add $34 million in spending during the current fiscal year, leaving the state government with an expected $266 million ending balance. State spending would increase by $290 million next fiscal year with an expected ending balance of $150 million in June 2019. How the budget remains balanced is by kicking the can down the road - further delaying KPERS payments and plundering the Kansas Department of Transportation. 

The specifics of the additional school funding would attempt to stop the exodus of teachers out of the state by calling for an increase to the average teacher salary by mid-2019 - hoping to eventually surpass the Nebraska average of $51,380 (currently Kansas' average teacher salary is $47,755). The proposal also recommended using additional funds to hire 150 school counselors or psychologists each year and suggested 15 hours of dual high school-college credit for Kansas high school students at no cost. 

"Let me make one thing very clear, the people of Kansas expect results," Brownback said during the address. "The Kansas State Board of Education will be responsible for making sure they get them." He listed the following goals the State BOE should aspire to:

  • Reaching a 95 percent statewide graduation rate
  • Reaching a minimum of 75 percent of students continuing education after graduation, whether through college, post-secondary certification or military service
  • Accelerating the movement of Kansas schools to the Kansans Can model for school redesign launched by the Kansas Department of Education

In order to achieve those goals, he suggested five "strategic objectives" for K-12 education. In addition to the strategic objectives of increased teacher pay, increased school counselors and psychologists and increased access to dual credit coursework, Brownback suggested they needed at least 50 schools participating in the Kansas Can school redesign project and offering every Kansas high school student a choice of taking either the ACT college entrance exam or the Work Keys assessment at no cost.

"We cannot - we must not - repeat the mistakes of others who have gone down the primrose path of thinking that education results can be forced by massive infusions of taxpayer money alone," he cautioned. "Money by itself will not solve the problem." He encouraged the Legislature to continue pursuing a Constitutional amendment to address school finance - essentially looking to limit the state Supreme Court's ability to oversee school funding as a constitutionally protected section of state government. 

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) referred to Brownback's education proposal as "a brutal parting gift" from an outgoing governor, sparing no one's feelings in his response. "I'm really pissed off," Denning told reporters after the speech. "I worked hard to get the budget in balance. We did all the heavy lifting last year without any of his help. In fact, he blocked us on every path, and now he's just putting the screws to us for next year. That must be his parting gift to us for overturning his tax policy."

The rest of Brownback's address spoke not of any specific accomplishments or plans, but rather the governor's "dreams for our state." He spoke of dreaming for Kansas to become the "best place in America to raise a family and grow a business" with a booming population and a great, affordable quality of life. Where poverty is decreasing and wages are increasing, a dream he said would require "time, bold effort and creativity." 

He spoke of his dreams for increased medical care in Kansas and more educational options for families to choose from. He noted the expanding use of wind for electricity in the state and increased aviation manufacturing. 

On the social side of things, Brownback noted his desire for Kansas to continue leading the fight against human trafficking in the nation and his dreams of reconciliation between the races - "where problems aren't ignored but addressed," he said. "Where people of goodwill view the past and present with clear-eyed honesty and resolve to make things right." 

Brownback concluded his final State of the State address by encouraging Kansans to "live with purpose and to walk in love and service with our brothers and sisters."