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Kansas tried an old-fashioned economic experiment — and its schools suffered.

Kansas has been the site of a massive live experiment — and we can learn a lot from its results, especially in Trump's America.

Kansas tried an old-fashioned economic experiment — and its schools suffered.
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Civic Ventures

In 2010, Sam Brownback became the governor of Kansas with the goal of creating a conservative utopia out of Kansas.

The state would become the grand example of how to create prosperity and opportunity through ultra conservative principles, and there was one way Governor Brownback was going to get it there: a trickle-down economy.

Through tax cuts, money would trickle down to the middle and lower classes, creating jobs and expanding business. So, in 2012, Brownback cut income taxes, largely benefiting the wealthiest Kansans, and eliminated taxes entirely for the owners of 330,000 businesses and farms.


It would be "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy," he wrote in an op-ed.

Only it wasn't.

Gov. Sam Brownback. Image via Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

It's been four years since Kansas' economic experiment began. The state is financially unrecognizable.

By the end of 2015, Kansas had dropped to 39th in the country for job growth. The state has been downgraded in its credit rating. And researchers currently project budget shortfalls in the state totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. The tax cuts that were supposed to jumpstart the economy and create jobs have actually done the opposite.

To help close the widening deficit gap, Brownback has dipped into the funding pool of public services and programs. Over and over again.

Health care, Medicaid, infrastructure, mental health services, and welfare have all been severely hit.

And one of the places where you can see the most impact of these funding cuts? In the classroom.

Since 2009, classrooms have gained more than 19,000 students, with 665 fewer teachers. Crowded classrooms mean full-time teachers are no longer able to give as much individual attention to their students, and yet the students keep pouring in.

The day begins at Plum Creek Elementary. Image via Travis Morisse/AP Photo/The Hutchinson News.

It's not any better for part-time educators either.

"Because of tight budgets, we hire most of our para-educators for five and three-quarter hours so we don't have to pay them health insurance," says Kim Schneweis, art teacher at Hays Middle School.

"These are adults working with our most vulnerable students, and they make less than $10,000 a year and aren't provided health insurance," she adds. "This is inhumane to the employees. They work very hard with students who need so much help.  This creates a revolving door.  Even though we have caring people who love working with these students, they cannot live on that little of pay."

Students in class at Haven High School. Image via Sandra J. Milbur/AP Photo/The Hutchinson News.

Then you have some school districts with no choice but to end their school year early because of lack of funding. At least eight school districts prematurely closed in 2015.

"It's crazy times," Mike Sanders, the superintendent of one the affected school districts, told Bloomberg: “The ideology in this tax experiment has gone too far. It’s almost as if they’re hell-bent on proving their point, no matter the damage it causes.”

Teachers are also fed up with it. Some are leaving their jobs for better teaching opportunities in neighboring states or are quitting education altogether.  In 2012-13, the average teaching salary was just $47,464, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, making Kansas one of the top 10 worst states for pay.

The number of teachers leaving the state nearly doubled in the last four years, reported the Lawrence Journal-World, and the neighboring state of Missouri has even placed billboards in Kansas to encourage teachers to teach there instead.

Spotted on I-70 near Lawrence, Kansas. Image via Orlin Wagner/AP Photo.

This teacher shortage has created many un-ideal situations, like when six school systems were allowed to hire unlicensed teachers to make up for it in 2015. And budget cuts have meant a big decrease to the fun parts of school: elective classes and extracurricular activities.

"The kids don’t disappear when we cut teaching positions," says Schneweis. "They still need a full schedule of classes, but we don’t have enough electives to put them in."

And they don't have enough funding for each student either. 96% of districts agreed that state aid per pupil was insufficient in 2015, and continuing to decline by the year. That sets up students to fall behind later in life.

A study from Northwestern University shows that increasing funding for every student leads to higher wages and a reduction in adult poverty. Slashing per-pupil resources, especially for at-risk students, only helps to keep the cycle of poverty alive.

A student works on a video for the yearbook. Image via Travis Morisse/AP Photo/The Hutchinson News.

This trickle-down economic experiment is jeopardizing the future of Kansas.

Neglecting the needs of teachers and students and creating barriers to a proper education is not creating a competitive workforce, let alone a "conservative utopia." Even the Supreme Court has said so.

This exchange would make a great caption contest. Image via John Milburn/AP Photo.

Luckily, Kansans are taking notice.

In the 2016 primary, a large number of legislators were voted out in lieu of more moderate ones who oppose the state's drastic economic approach. That's a start.

Brownback's experiment is a cautionary tale at what happens when you use large tax cuts for those already at the top to spark economic growth: It doesn't work.

And that's the thing about experiments: You're supposed to listen to the findings, even if they aren't the results you wanted. If you ignore the data and prioritize your personal beliefs instead, you have a real shot at hurting the people you were put in charge to help in your state — or if Trump gets his way, the entire country.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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