Kansas: Anti-Trans Bigotry Prioritized Over Education

(Kansas Governor Sam Brownback)

While discussion around the nation has focused on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” – the governor-approved legislation barring trans people from using public bathrooms corresponding to their gender – another state has slipped under the radar with regard to its own anti-trans actions.

The Kansas state legislature concluded its 2016 legislative session on Wednesday, June 1 with a resolution opposing the Obama Administration’s federal guidelines stipulating restroom equality for transgender students in schools. Conspicuously absent from the legislature’s final priorities was the impending crisis facing the state’s struggling school system, which may not open for the coming school year pending a case before the state’s Supreme Court.

Kansas has struggled to pay for state services since its governor, Sam Brownback, has crusaded for zero income tax and other policies designed to slash government revenue in the name of small government. As a result, education inequality has worsened, resulting in a case brought by four poor school districts alleging that the state government has actively neglected lower-income students.

The state Supreme Court issued a demand that the government treat all districts equitably. In response, lawmakers effectively reshuffled funds without adding any revenue for school funding or fundamentally addressing the inequalities at the heart of the issue.

After all, with the continued implementation of the governor’s stridently anti-tax agenda, where could lawmakers possibly find the additional public dollars necessary for effectively dealing with the discrepancies in educational funding?

The court maintains that the funding system is unconstitutional and thus void, meaning that the entire state’s educational system is bereft of funding. If lawmakers do not successfully meet the court’s criteria for a just and equitably funded educational system, the state’s schools will not open for the next school year for want of a legally recognized framework.

Kansas consistently ranks among the bottom states for educational quality. With the highly partisan, bigoted shenanigans of today’s Kansas state legislature, that’s a very unsurprising fact.

What makes the present situation so infuriating is the insult to injury of the legislature’s anti-transgender resolution. How, in a period of turmoil in which the very basic rights of the state’s children are under threat, could elected officials prioritize state-persecution of a minority group?

That’s the question worth asking Kansas’ elected officials.

Indian Boarding School Uses Fake Students in Direct Mail Campaign

A boarding school for Indian children has come under fire this week for misleading donors. St. Joseph’s Indian School—located in Chamberlain, South Dakota—has apparently raised millions of dollars via direct mail campaigns that utilized fake stories told from the perspective of fictitious students to generate donations during its annual fundraising drive.

A CNN report release Monday revealed that appeal letters from the school featured profiles of students who suffered abuse at the hands of troubled parents and experienced abject poverty. One such letter featured the testimony of a student named Josh Little Bear, who wrote, “My dad drinks and hits me . . . my mom chose drugs over me . . . my home on the reservation isn’t a safe place for me to be.” As the report uncovers, not only is there no Little Bear, but there is no actual student for which the name serves as a protective pseudonym.

The scope of the school’s mail fundraising is tremendous. Annually, the private institution sends out approximately 30 million direct mail pieces asking its largely Catholic donor base for money. Last year alone, the campaign generated $51 million dollars.

These actions create a host of questions about what constitutes acceptable fundraising practices. How much creative license does one have in crafting his/her institution’s identity? What are the ethical limits behind a non-profit’s messaging strategy? Can a certain element in an organization’s identity or messaging offend and alienate a group of people?

The fallout from these revelations is manifold. Native American leaders have already responded to the falsified stories. The president of the First Nations Development Institute accused the school of using “poverty porn” to solicit sympathy and philanthropy, projecting racist tropes of Native Americans in order to catch the attention of middle-class caucasian donors. Indeed, the donors themselves will likely be frustrated at having been deceived and may even cease their giving.

Others in the debate, however, contend that the school was merely aggregating students’ experiences and then fundraising for what is ultimately an invaluable service for hundreds of kids. The school has shot back at CNN for being “loose with the facts,” ignoring the honest operations of the school and the good it does for its pupils.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the fictionalized accounts—which, up until now, were chiefly responsible for St. Joseph’s successful fundraising—will end up tanking the school’s annual earnings.

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