The Kansas City Star, March 16

Kansas school funding report blows a hole in conservative doctrine

A long-awaited school funding study released Friday in Topeka was expected to endorse the long-held conservative view that there's no correlation between student performance and the money spent on public schools.

After all, conservative Republican leaders had hand-picked the consultant — Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University professor — to take a fresh look at Kansas school spending. Democrats and moderate Republicans who back more education spending feared a low-ball recommendation just as lawmakers begin deliberations on a new funding formula.

But in a stunning development, Taylor's study sent a torpedo into bedrock conservative doctrine, concluding that a link does indeed exist between spending and a student's educational attainment. She said lawmakers must spend another $1.7 billion over five years to reach performance targets or an additional $2 billion to deliver enhanced educational outcomes.

Until Friday, the conventional wisdom in the statehouse was that lawmakers would look to increase school funding by $600 million over the next few years.

Now, Taylor has flipped that school-funding math end-over-end. Based on this report, $600 million may not come even close to doing the job.

Lawmakers face an April 30 deadline to respond to the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling that the Legislature's latest efforts to fund schools had fallen short. That gives them precious little time for such a complicated task as writing a new formula and then funding it.

Taylor was blunt in linking educational attainment with dollars spent.

"The analysis finds a strong, positive relationship between educational outcomes and educational costs," Taylor concluded. She also said a 1 percentage point increase in graduation rates is associated with a 1.2 percent increase in costs in lower grades and a 1.9 percent increase in costs at the high school level.

That amounts to a breathtaking repudiation of the long-standing conservative argument that there's no link between outcomes and spending.

"It's a validation of what I have been working on with a lot of colleagues and advocates and parents for many years." said state Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway who has worked for years to boost school funding.

In the report, Taylor recommends a five-year time period for implementing higher spending, then calls for that spending commitment to be "ongoing."

"It is not practical to make a one-time, significant investment in a statewide public education system and expect at the end of that school year to see dramatic movement from current performance to aspiration targets," she wrote.

Taylor's 157-page study will take time to digest, and there are some errors that will need to be corrected. But she has upped the ante for lawmakers who now have mere weeks, not months, to write a new school funding formula.

Until Friday, many lawmakers were confident that they could cough up another $600 million for schools without a tax increase. Now, that bet may well be off. And the prospect of yet again raising taxes to cover years underfunding and neglect of public schools is once again staring them in the face.

Lawrence Journal-World, March 16

Gun control an uphill battle

High school students around the country, including students in Lawrence and Topeka, walked out of class on Wednesday to commemorate one month since the deadly shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, and to protest gun violence. Their next major event is the March for Our Lives on March 24.

The youth are articulate and passionate. They seem committed and motivated. They have a national stage.

But let's be clear: Their youthful optimism is up against a foe that eats optimism for breakfast. The National Rifle Association is to gun control legislation what Kansas men's basketball is to the Big 12. Since the federal assault weapons ban was lifted in 2005, the NRA has fought any and all attempts at federal gun control legislation and won every battle, against every party, every organization and every mass shooting.

The students want action on common-sense gun control legislation — an assault weapons ban, thorough background checks without loopholes and a minimum age of 21 to purchase a gun. The NRA wants inaction.

So far, the NRA is winning, successfully quashing what the organization calls "the resistance" at nearly every turn.

In the first two weeks after the shooting in Parkland killed 17 people, it appeared the country could be on the verge of change. The Florida Legislature passed a gun control bill that, among other things, moved the age limit to 21 to buy an assault rifle. In a public meeting with members of Congress, President Donald Trump signaled support for increasing the age limit, better background checks and even nodded in agreement as Sen. Dianne Feinstein shared data with him that showed the occurrence of mass shootings had nearly quadrupled since the assault weapons ban was lifted. Trump even mocked Sen. Pat Toomey for being afraid of the NRA.

But after meetings with the NRA, Trump offered a proposal that seeks only modest improvements to background checks, but no age limits and certainly no assault weapons ban. The proposal focused mostly on policy the NRA supports: improving school security by arming school personnel and providing them with rigorous firearms training.

There have been at least three incidents since the Parkland shooting in which school personnel have fired guns in schools. Fortunately, only one student suffered minor injuries. Despite these incidents, the NRA, Trump and others — including many in the Kansas Legislature — still think increasing the number of guns in schools is the best way to make schools safer.

The students who have organized and participated in marches are to be commended for getting engaged and standing up for what they believe to be right. But they must understand that their success ultimately will depend on voting in November.

The NRA and the elected officials they back are betting that by summer, students will have turned their attention elsewhere. The question that will be answered in the coming months is whether the students are just marching in March or are part of a real movement.

The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 18

Kansas stripes for Pompeo deeply conservative

The trajectory of Mike Pompeo on the political stage is not so much the story of a Kansan who made good as it is an ambitious businessman who made the most of the ties he formed in the state.

The background of Pompeo, born and raised in Southern California, is impressive. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduated first in his class with a degree in mechanical engineering, served five years of active duty in the Army and rose to the rank of captain as a cavalry officer in East Germany. He later was accepted to Harvard Law School and was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

His link to Kansas was through his mother, Dorothy, a native of the state. Pompeo moved to Wichita, the hometown of his wife, Susan, and was instrumental in the growth of two businesses. He became involved in the community, taught Sunday school and eventually rode the Tea Party movement into Washington. He was elected to three terms in the House of Representatives beginning in 2010.

One of the biggest influences for Pompeo has been Charles and David Koch, the Wichita siblings who built Koch Industries and funneled considerable money into the campaigns Pompeo ran to jump-start his political career. He was confirmed as CIA director following his nomination by Donald Trump shortly after the president's election in November 2016.

Now, with Pompeo next in line to become secretary of state following Trump's decision to oust Rex Tillerson, the transplanted Wichitan will serve a lead role in the administration. In his position as top diplomat, Pompeo not only must engage allies and enemies, but also soothe Trump's temperament. The backing Pompeo has from the Koch brothers suggests Trump will listen to Pompeo, which could bring a needed level of stability to the White House as well as a method for advancing the Kochs' conservative agenda.

As a hawk, Pompeo strongly opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and was praised Tuesday by Trump for sharing the same sentiment as the president that the agreement forged by the Obama administration was "terrible.?

First, however, the administration's attention is thrust on Trump's upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo's capability as an adviser in those talks will be key to any details that are worked out and cut through bluster that has persisted leading up to the surprising summit. A better relationship with Trump, at least than that of Tillerson, could actually work in favor of a peaceful agreement between the two bickering leaders of the United States and North Korea.

At least that's a hopeful viewpoint.

A contentious confirmation hearing is expected for Pompeo before the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Rand Paul of Kentucky became the first Republican senator to say he will oppose Pompeo, in part because the secretary of state nominee has supported using torture to interrogate enemy combatants and suspected terrorists. Paul also voted not to confirm Pompeo as CIA director in 2017.

Whatever the outcome, the political path for Pompeo has grown bumpier, yet more substantial.

Do his ties to Kansas matter? Well, he and his wife regularly returned to Wichita during Pompeo's three House terms and were quick to call the city their home, not Washington, while cheering on Wichita State's basketball fortunes and involving themselves in civic activities.

Wichita also happens to be where the Koch brothers conduct their business and played an influential role in the rise of Mike Pompeo. That connection, and the deeply conservative influence it carries, figures to strengthen even more if Pompeo is affirmed as secretary of state.