Oct 09, 2022

LETTER: Ugly truth doesn’t turn fact into fiction

Posted Oct 09, 2022 9:59 AM

A recent letter to the editor declared that I have been unfair to my opponent in the race for the 111th District seat in the Kansas House. The letter sought to show how my opponent is actually a great supporter of K-12 education and Fort Hays State University.

I thought that, instead of writing a letter to set the record straight and asking friends to sign, I would just put my own name on it.

In reality, my opponent’s letter was more of the shell game that she continues to play with funding for education in general and Fort Hays State in particular.

My opponent, or her supporters, can claim all they want that she has voted for “full constitutional funding” for K-12 education, but the fact is that she gave with one hand and took away with the other.

She supported the legislative gamesmanship that funded the operational side of K-12 education but then cut special education. They knew – or should have known – that federal and state mandates for special education funding meant that school districts would be forced to make up the shortfall by taking money from the operational side.

And let’s be clear what the operational side is – it’s everything from electricity to teacher salaries. The shortfall in the two districts is equivalent to 22.5 teaching positions.

Statewide, the funding bill my opponent voted for was $155 million short of what would have actually met the Supreme Court’s Montoy mandate. She even voted against – twice – a compromise amendment that would have made up $68 million of the special education deficit.

That letter also engages in misdirection on Fort Hays State’s funding. Fort Hays State “has been granted funding for everything it has requested,” the letter says, citing $500,000 for a cybersecurity program and $1.5 million – from Covid funds – for air conditioning in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

These budget allocations are offered as proof that she “has consistently and vigorously advocated for Fort Hays interests.” But fair and equitable funding is really determined by the size of the institutional block grant.

I think being a consistent, vigorous advocate would involve fighting for fair and equitable funding in the university’s annual block grant – the largest single portion of its state funding.

The funding problem started when the Legislature decoupled enrollment from the block grant allocation for Regents institutions. 

The problem grew as the university enrollment grew throughout almost two decades of record-setting growth. That enrollment growth was never recognized in the block grant formula.

A fair and equitable block grant would be an additional $20 million to $30 million more each year. A fair and equitable block grant would recognize the tremendous achievement of the university’s growth from 6,000 students to almost 16,000 in roughly a dozen years.

A consistent, vigorous advocate would not accuse the university of cannibalizing students from around Kansas. A consistent, vigorous advocate would recognize FHSU’s worth to the state, and its citizens, by investing in FHSU’s record of growth.

At the end of this year’s legislative session, the state had $2 billion in reserves and $960 million in the rainy-day fund. Her letter correctly called education “one of the cornerstones of our great state.”

We had the money to fully fund education. Yet my opponent declined even to try to advocate fora correction in the block grant process.

I don’t think it’s unfair to point this out. I just think that we in the 111th District should have our own advocate, and that’s why I am running to replace her.

Ed Hammond, D-Hays, candidate for the 111th Kansas House