Updated: Oct 16, 2018
Most know of the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and he eats for the day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” What happens when the “ability” to teach is diminished? This paper will first examine the responsibilities of legislators to pass a budget that carries no deficit. After examining the need to enact such cuts, this essay will investigate the specific budget balancing attempts aimed at education, then discuss the impacts already realized as well as those projected based on scientific studies of development and cognition. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is that while Kansas has a state constitutional requirement to balance its annual budget, the enacted budget cuts will have a negative impact on education and harm current students in regards to cognitive, social, and economic developments.
In Defense of Budget Cuts
For various reasons, most still being heavily debated, Kansas has been collecting less tax revenue over the past several years. Unlike the federal government, Kansas has to have a balanced budget to operate the state, meaning it cannot carry over a deficit into the next year. After enacting past cuts, Gov. Brownback has a two-year projected deficit of almost $1 billion (Eligon, 2015). Rather than run out of money in the future, he had to make tough decisions where to decrease current funding in an attempt to mitigate future cuts as well as abide by the state constitution.
In his 2015 State of the State speech, Gov. Brownback touted some of the successes he’s already brought to Kansas in an attempt to turn around decreasing revenues and promote a healthier economy. “Kansas has created more than 59,000 new private sector jobs. Our unemployment rate is tied for the tenth lowest in America…,” stated Gov. Brownback. He continued, “…and welfare rolls have been cut in half” (Brownback, 2015). After acknowledging that most of the projected budget shortfalls were due to the K-12 education system, Gov. Brownback attributed those gaps to a faulty formula calculating the necessary spending for additional students in the public school system.
Conservative columnist Bob Adelmann compiled a few more statistics in favor of Brownback’s policies. He notes that private job growth between 2013 and 2014 was significantly higher than neighboring states, Kansas had the fourth-highest construction growth in the country during that same time period, GDP rose by 3.1%, and unemployment fell to 4.9% by August 2014 (Adelmann, 2015). Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for the governor, pointed out that public school funding has actually increased for the current year by $177 million over the previous year (Eligon, 2015). In summing up his need for education reform, Gov. Brownback stated, “Accountability. You have heard me say that we must be accountable with our budget and education policy” (Brownback, 2015).
Examination of Budget Cuts
Do any of these numbers add up? Are the success stories lauded by the governor worth the possible damage to the Kansas public school and higher education systems? First, a look at a few more financial statistics will help put things into context. In January 2015 alone, $44.5 million was cut from the overall education budget (Eligon, 2015), which puts a rather large dent into the $177 million increase Eileen Hawley defended. Furthermore, the majority of that $177 million went to “building expenses and pensions,” according to Mark Tallman, associate executive director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, and not for things related to the classroom (Eligon, 2015).
In just a 3-year reporting period ending in early 2011, Kansas had already cut 185 music education positions, 55% of responding districts reported lower funding for vocal and instrumental programs, and 18% of all respondents claimed a decrease in funding of at least 25% versus prior year (Burrack & Payne, 2011). What’s more striking is that instead of cutting back on the programs themselves, music teachers were required to do more. For instance, 19% of responding districts stated music teachers were being asked to instruct in disciplines outside their expertise, 20% claimed added responsibilities with no extra compensation, and 18% said they were turning to student fees to fill shortfalls (Burrack & Payne, 2011).
The Kansas budget passed in 2011 lowered state aid to students by 5.8%, resulting in cuts to special education, bi-lingual, and vocational programs along with transportation. Additionally, before even more recently enacted education cuts, school districts have cut almost 2,300 positions, or around 3% of the total, according to John Heim, executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards (Rothschild, 2011). One of the most important cuts came to Kan-ed, which provides “internet connectivity and technology support for public and private schools, colleges and universities, libraries and hospitals” (WIBW, 2011). Most districts have come to know that reliable internet access and support is integral in today’s classrooms. After-school and community programs aimed at improving graduation rates have had their budgets slashed by 50% each (WIBW, 2011).
Even after all the aforementioned budget decreases, some insist that these cuts are the only way to save the programs themselves. After all, it’s better to cut them than cancel them, right? Well, it doesn’t appear that much is being saved. As recently as April 3rd, 2015, two school districts announced they would be closing two schools early due to a lack of funding (Wilkie, 2015). It’s difficult to see how children can learn academically and succeed when their schools are being closed. As a matter of fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only 2 states have cut per-student spending more than Kansas (Wilkie, 2015).
So, what are the real-world implications? Other than schools being completely eliminated, what other effects might these budget cuts have? Well, this essay has already examined the diminished resources available to the students as well as the additional responsibilities imposed on teachers, specifically music teachers, although it seems fair to assume other teachers have likewise received the same demands. As most people know, when time is expended on one task, it quite often usurps time from another task. This undoubtedly leads to less time for each student (a higher student to teacher ratio) and longer working hours. It would be interesting to hear someone defend how these added obstacles could possibly lead to an increase in testing, intelligence, development, or any positive features whatsoever.
What about the children? How does all this affect them? Could this impact development? A brief examination of the relationship between music and the cognitive sciences shows that “…from the perspective of studying the human mind, the cognitive processing of music simultaneously engages most of the perceptual, cognitive, and emotional processes…” (Pearce & Rohrmeier, 2012). Music programs, one of the many being heavily impacted by budget cuts, involve much more than meet the eye. For instance, research links music to the very evolution of humans, “shaping human interaction, social structure, and human cognition” (Pearce & Rorhmeier, 2012). While scientists are still developing theories and experiments to measure “how” music boosts cognitive development, it seems undeniable that music, or the brain’s processing of music, contributes to development. Following are some of the benefits Pearce and Rorhmeier (2012) lay out in their study of music’s effects on cognition: auditory scene analysis (understanding different components and their locations), signal processing (deciphering differences in pitch, timing, loudness, etc.), recursive processing (assisting in the process of language), attention, learning, memory, and emotion. After all, hasn’t everyone felt a strong emotional connection to a particular song at some point?
It may be easy to understand the effects cuts to special education programs might have, but what are the everyday effects of cutting programs like art and music – those that benefit cognitive development, especially at earlier life stages? Perhaps the two most conventional ways are through measures of intelligence and income. Do things like art and kindergarten (early learning) make a person smarter? Will a good job be in the future?
It is believed Aristotle said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Perhaps that’s what makes art so mentally stimulating. Paintings, books, movies, and music mean very different things to different people. Each of us uses our mind to find other meanings hidden within our world often through symbolism, subliminal cues, perceptual challenges, and other techniques. A better question might be, how is it possible those mental mind games wouldn’t help intelligence? For instance, many studies have shown the positive correlation between enrollment in art programs and higher SAT scores (Ruppert, 2006). The research compendium Critical Links has documented over 65 distinct relationships between the arts and academic and social outcomes (Ruppert, 2006). Following are a few of the more important relationships noted by the report:
· Drama (acting) increases literacy
· Music adds context to language skills and provides reading readiness
· Music classes have a positive correlation to increased SAT math scores
· Dance contributes to critical thinking and abstract thought
· Music and Dance contribute to self-esteem and social connections
If the arts contribute to intelligence and social integration, doesn’t it make sense that those who are exposed more should fare better in life, economically speaking? In light of all this, shouldn’t early learning programs be extra beneficial, since most early development relies on singing, coloring, acting, and other artistic forms of expression? A longitudinal study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that children exposed to higher quality teachers, smaller class sizes, and proper resources were much more likely to receive higher scores on early childhood testing. Then, the study followed them into adulthood (27 years old) to rate different measures of success. There was a large positive correlation between the “better” class structures and adult outcomes, most notably higher wages, college attendance, homeownership, and savings (Chetty, et al, 2011). This lends credence to the theory that classroom disparities add to income inequality.
Decreasing funding for education programs might be a tool used to balance the budget, but the effects can be devastating in the present and exacerbated in the future. Eliminating funds for education programs is crippling younger generations in their abilities to keep up with others not affected by such severe cuts. In our Declaration of Independence, our founders laid out the equal right to “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” One might even argue that cutting education so severely limits “life” and “the pursuit of happiness.” After all, if your future involves a Kansas’ education, your pursuit of happiness might entail always trying to catch up.
Adelmann, B. (2014, September 22). Will tax cuts rescue Kansas governor Brownback in November?
Brownback, S. (2015, January 15). State of the state 2015.
Burrack, F., Dr., & Payne, P., Dr. (2011). Impact of budget cuts on music education in Kansas' schools.
Chetty, R., Friedman, J., Hilger, N., Saez, E., Whimore Schanzenbach, D., & Yagan, D. (2011). How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, 126(4), 1593-1660.
Eligon, J. (2015, Feb 12). Education is newest target of Kansas budget cuts. New York Times.
Pearce, M., & Rohrmeier, M. (2012). Music cognition and the cognitive sciences. Topics in Cognitive Science, 4(4), 468-484. 0p.
Rothschild, S. (2011, May 23). Statehouse live: Kansas education officials say school cuts will hurt student performance. Daily Journal World.
Ruppert, S. (2006). Critical evidence: how the arts benefit student achievement. National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
WIBW. (2011, May 20). How Kansas budget cuts will affect school aid programs.
Wilkie, C. (2015, April 3). Kansas schools will close early this spring for lack of funds.