••• Education •••

Lawrence school board member makes many false claims in angry rant

A commentary by USD 497 Lawrence school board member Marcel Harmon published this week by Salon.com set new lows for its cruel, angry tone.  This isn’t the garden variety name-calling that permeates school funding discussions; he actually issued what could be construed as a call to violence.

He ponders what it will take for what he sees as ‘apathy’ “…to turn to anger and action in mass.”  Mr. Harmon carries what he obviously sees as a cute Wizard of Oz theme throughout his piece, calling his enemies ‘flying monkeys’ and labeling Governor Brownback as The Wicked Witch of the West.  He concludes his ‘turn to anger and action in mass’ paragraph by saying, “Can we lift that bucket of water high enough to dump on the witch’s head?”

Maybe he’s just impressed with his wit and really doesn’t mean he’d like to see the angry masses kill his version of the wicked witch, but if a conservative said that, you know media would be storming the district, demanding his resignation and railing about irresponsible conservatives.  Imagine the media outcry if a conservative called democrats a bunch of flying monkeys; they might even call that ‘racist.’

False claims

Naturally, the self-appointed judge, jury and maybe-executioner built his case on a mountain of absolutely false claims.  Here are six examples.

Harmon: “The privatization of public education is a necessary component of the march to zero income taxes.”

Truth: The only people talking about privatization of education are the unions and other special interests trying to scare citizens into submitting to their demands for a blank check.

Harmon: “There is no way to get there [no income tax] without drastically reducing the spending on public education.”

Truth: Every state has public education, highways, social services, etc. but states with low taxes provide those services at better prices.  In 2014, the states that tax income spent 48% more per-resident than the states without an income tax.  Kansas spent 34% more.  A recent state efficiency study showed Kansas could save $2 billion over five years, and that was just a partial review.  Providing the same or better quality service at a better price is the path to reducing taxes.

Harmon: The block grant program “…reduced the amount of dollars school districts have available for day to day operations.”

Truth: The Kansas Department of Education reports that block grant funding for this year and next year increases funding that can be used for discretionary purposes and removes previous restrictions on the use of money.  The increase isn’t as much schools want, and in government-speak, that’s a ‘cut.’

Harmon: Legislative leadership proposes to resolve a Supreme Court equity ruling by “…simply redistribute[ing]…block grant funds for next year in a more equitable manner.  It’s questionable whether or not this will meet the court’s equitable requirement.”

Truth: The Supreme Court specifically said constitutional inequities “…can be cured in a variety of ways—at the choice of the legislature.”  The court allowed that redistributing existing funds could create a separate adequacy issue, but it is not at all ‘questionable’ whether equity could be achieved in a redistribution of existing funds.

Harmon: “In true wicked witch fashion, the ultraconservatives previously eliminated teacher due process.”

Truth: The Legislature merely moved due process from being mandatory to allowing each district to determine whether, and if so, how, to conduct due process.  If due process was eliminated anywhere, it was by choice of local school boards.

Harmon: Tax cuts “…are forcing us to shrink government.”

Truth: Not that that would be a bad thing, but government has not been shrunk by tax cuts or anything else.  In fact, both state general fund spending and total school spending continue to set records.

Irresponsible journalism

Publishing a commentary without fact-checking the outlandish claims made by Mr. Harmon is irresponsible journalism; there’s no hiding behind the piece being a commentary.   Publishing a call to “anger and action in mass” is another form of journalistic negligence and hypocrisy, as Salon is on record decrying what they describe as efforts on the part of conservatives to excuse violent protests at presidential candidate rallies.

It will be interesting to see if local editorial writers properly call out this egregious behavior.