Proclamations are nice, but the state needs to provide more than kind words to support public education.
It's easy to be cynical about a ceremony in which Gov. Bill Graves urges the state to support public schools.
Declaring September as "Support Public Schools Month" is a nice gesture, but state funding that would have allowed schools to avoid the kind of disruptive budget cuts they have had to implement this year would be far better. In a speech at Landon Middle School in Topeka Tuesday, Graves spoke eloquently about the "people who work so hard every day in a variety of roles" but avoided any mention of the $17.4 million he had to cut from aid to public schools just three weeks ago.
Graves, of course, isn't entirely to blame for those cuts. The economy, which supplies tax revenue to support public schools, has gone sour in Kansas as well as most other parts of the country. And state legislators have been less than helpful in raising additional funds that could be used for schools.
The governor, however, sounded a conciliatory note toward legislators Tuesday saying that balancing demands for state tax dollars is a difficult chore. "From a distance," he said, "we believe it's a lot easier than it is."
No one said it was easy. That's why it's important to elect legislators who share our concern for education funding to make those difficult decisions. Across the state, school districts now are feeling the real impact of budget cuts. Services have been reduced, and families are being asked to pay more to enroll their students in school and extracurricular activities.
Every indication is that the situation will get worse. School districts able to patch together budgets that maintained most important services this year may see their fragile financial structure collapse next year. All the more reason to elect representatives that place a high priority on education.
Sitting in the back row of the governor's speech last Tuesday was Andy Tompkins, state commissioner of education. He acknowledged that not all Kansans support tax increases to fund public education. He also made the disturbing observation that the lack of support may be linked at least somewhat to the fact that only one-fourth of adults in the state have school-age children.
It would be a sad commentary on Kansas if the other three-fourths of its residents didn't recognize the importance of strong public education to the state. You don't have to have children or even grandchildren in school to understand that high quality education both K-12 and higher education is the key to the state's future. A well-educated citizenry drives the state's economy and reduces the drain on social service programs.
It's hard to identify what in school budgets might be considered wasteful spending, but districts across the state certainly have been forced this year to tighten their belts. With revenues continuing to fall below estimates, the state will have to carefully examine its priorities during the next legislative session and hopefully make an investment in the state's future by supporting public education.
If the next governor of Kansas declares September 2003 as "Support Public Schools Month," that designation shouldn't have to be accompanied by an apology for inadequate school funding.