On the other side?
What’s the delivery of services by your Kansas government going to look like on the other side
of the coronavirus pandemic?
So far, the Legislature, which may or may not be done for the year, has passed a budget, it has
funded K-12 education to the level that the Kansas Supreme Court says meets the constitutional
need to provide education in public schools from border to border and it has set aside about $50
million that the state budget director can request for dealing with the coronavirus.
Many state employees have been shifted from their crowded offices to working from home over
the Internet, which so far seems to be working fairly well…except of course for those tens of
thousands of Kansans who are applying for unemployment compensation after their jobs have
ended because of the wide shutdown of most businesses.
For some Kansans, this effort to save lives by preventing the transmission of COVID-19 is going
to be a test of just how state government works for all of us. And for some of those Kansans, just
how well the state is able to provide the basic social and educational and public safety services
that we all want for our fellow Kansas citizens may reshape state government well after the
coronavirus is over.
Everything from applying for or renewing a driver’s license to dropping off a check for local
property taxes to seeking assistance for Kansans with no jobs anymore is going to be handled
over the phone or the Internet for now.
And we Statehouse habitués who have for years heard mostly conservative members of the
House and Senate complain about the growth of state government – in terms of new programs, of
the state employee jobs to carry out those programs, and of course the total bill for operation of
the state – are wondering just what this pandemic is going to do in the future.
Everything from smaller state offices if employees work over the Internet from their homes to
just what elementary and secondary education is going to look like in the future if the newly
assembled remote learning programs that educators are essentially testing on students the
remainder of this school year are the start of what might become a whole new face for state
Yes, some of us regulars here under the dome are wondering whether Kansas’ success in keeping
basic services operating over the Internet is going to be key for providing more personal service to Kansans once the social distancing isn’t necessary. Whether that socializing even when
applying for a new driver’s license is a valuable way to show Kansans that they are important,
and that Kansas government understands that.
That humanity may well become the real issue once this pandemic is over.
We can probably teach our kids long division over the Internet, but remember, it’s the social
skills that make us proud of those kids, not their ability to just hit a “send” key when they’ve
completed their essay on water resources and how they shape the state’s economy.
Those teachers and even contact with fellow students are a big part of what public education has
yielded as a dividend for us. But we’re wondering whether that is the sort of information that will
turn up in the inevitable legislative committees that will study just how well Kansas responded to
Yup, this pandemic may be a test of state government and the jobs that we send lawmakers to
Topeka to manage each year. Save a few bucks, lower the tax rates, boost the deduction for
providing a school room at home for those kids? Lots of ways to respond to coronavirus and the
lessons it teaches us.
We’ll see whether it’s just long division, or kids who you want to live next door to, won’t we?