By Tim Carpenter
July 30, 2017

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback took a pit stop in his Topeka gubernatorial campaign headquarters in 2010 to outline five policy objectives that voters ought to view as benchmarks for evaluating his performance.

The “Road Map for Kansas,” he said, would feature increases in net personal income and private-sector employment. The candidate promised, if elected, more fourth-graders would read at grade level and high school graduates would be better prepared for college or work. He vowed to lower the number of children living in poverty.

“These five points will have the greatest influence on growing the economy, reforming state government, enhancing the impact of our children’s education experience and, ultimately, protecting the well-being of Kansas families,” Brownback said.

Brownback, elected and re-elected governor, has accepted the nomination by President Donald Trump to be ambassador of religious freedom. He expects to soon resign as governor.

At this juncture, Brownback said, the state appeared to be turning a corner in the fight against child poverty. His strategy centered on breaking Kansas families free of “Great Society” programs that rendered people dependent on handouts.

“We went a different route,” the governor said. “We’re seeing poverty go down. I am ecstatic about that.”

The supplemental poverty report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Census showed the average percentage of Kansas children in poverty from 2011 to 2013 was 15 percent. In the latest edition of the report, the average for 2013 to 2015 was 10 percent.

Annie McKay, president of Kansas Action for Children, said Brownback attacked the safety net for low-income families and children. Other states have done more post-recession to reduce poverty, she said, and some decisions by the Brownback administration to limit services haven’t been factored into Census data.

“It’s denying little kids access to things they need,” McKay said. “We will see the impact in years to come.”

In terms of fourth-grade reading, 36 percent of Kansas students were proficient or better on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2013, the number at that level moved to 38 percent. However, the score slipped to 36 percent in 2015.

“We had some good fourth-grade reading initiatives,” Brownback said. “But, still, not enough.”

In 2012, the state offered financial incentives for high school students to earn industry-recognized technical training credentials useful if they didn’t attend college. The Kansas Board of Regents logged 598 certificate recipients in 2012. The numbers shot up to 711 in 2013, 1,414 in 2014 and 1,692 in 2015 before subsiding to 1,224 in 2016.

“I would put us at best in the country in changes we’ve made,” Brownback said.

Performance of Kansas students on the ACT escalated to 22 in 2014, but that Brownback-era high wasn’t far from the 21.9 in 2012, 21.8 in 2013 and the 21.9 in 2015 and 2016.

Brownback’s quest for higher personal per-capita income in Kansas was realized. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Kansas earnings at $40,883 in 2011. The rising tide: $43,380 in 2012; $44,417 in 2013; $45,546 in 2014; $47,161 in 2015; and $48,537 in 2016.

His private-sector job goal has been controversial, with the governor claiming creation of 55,000 jobs in his first term. He promised if re-elected in 2014 he’d deliver 100,000 new jobs in a second term. He will not meet that pledge. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics placed private-sector job growth was 2 percent in 2014, 1.1 percent in 2015 and, revised federal statistics indicated the 2016 expansion dwindled to 0.8 percent.

Brownback said low oil prices and sharp reductions in commodity prices created recessionary conditions in rural Kansas. In addition, a horizontal drilling boom Brownback anticipated never occurred.

“One thing I’d change would be the price of oil and the price of wheat. We hit a recession in ‘15,” he said.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.