Republican lawmakers in Kansas who are eager to further cut taxes (despite having had to lay off hundreds of public employees) think they have found another program worthy of elimination: a college savings plan specifically designed to benefit the state's poorest students.
The state currently provides annual matching contributions of up to $600 for low-income families that invest in the state's 529 college savings program. Close to 1,000 families take advantage of the program at a cost of approximately $2.1 million for the state.
Instead, argues Gov. Sam Brownback and his fellow Republicans in the legislature, that money should go to more tax breaks for the state's wealthiest residents:
"The real question is: Is it a core function of government?" asked Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican and chairman of the House General Government Budget Committee.
A move to cut the program comes as lawmakers search to pay for massive income tax cuts enacted last year and even more cuts in the coming years.
Gov. Sam Brownback has already asked legislators to keep a penny sales tax increase that many of them opposed when it was passed in 2010.
Still, lawmakers are looking to trim the budget to lower income taxes even more.
Brownback has steadily sought to roll back and eventually eliminate his state's income tax in favor of a higher sales tax, a regressive tax system that punishes poorer taxpayers and rewards wealthier ones. But this latest move — to eliminate funding for a program designed specifically to educate the state's poor in order to pay for tax breaks that benefit the wealthy the most — is perhaps the most brazen volley yet in the Republicans' war on the poor.
Meanwhile, countless studies have shown that access to higher education is the surest way for students to climb out of poverty.