Following the recent Kansas primary elections, there has been much talk about the possible repercussions of conservative Republican candidates ousting more moderate-leaning officeholders. These elections have given political observers much to debate or speculate on relative to what will happen with various state-assisted programs if these victorious GOP conservatives defeat their Democratic opponents and the Kansas Senate becomes a far more conservative body.
Those in the field of education seem particularly concerned and suggest there may be severe cutbacks in state fiscal aid to K-12 schools and to the state-aided universities.
Some of those in this camp are forecasting dark days for schools a year or two from now when, in their eyes, a legislative body created by Gov. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the “Koch Brothers” and other ultra-conservative individuals and groups have waved their magic wands and created a new tight-fisted, shortsighted, uninformed and uneducated legislative body that is likely to take actions that severely damage the state’s schools.
At this time, who knows what is going to happen to funding for education, but one thing is sure: Those in education, whether they are classroom teachers in K-12 schools, parents of students or faculty and administrators at the college level, all are going to have to do a far better job of telling their story and justifying sound fiscal support for their schools.
Too many people engaged and interested in education seem to think generous financial support for education is a given, almost automatic, and that those who question the effective use of millions of tax dollars appropriated for education are themselves uneducated and don’t know the importance of excellence in all levels of schooling.
The fact is, too many in education, including teachers, school superintendents and those associated with colleges and universities have done a poor and ineffective job of telling their story, explaining their needs and getting the public sufficiently excited and enthused about demanding proper fiscal support by state lawmakers.
One such body, which has failed to be a strong, positive and effective messenger for higher education, is the Kansas Board of Regents. In recent years, the regents have not measured up to their responsibilities.
The past few days, the nine members of this extremely important body have been engaged in a retreat to analyze the status of higher education in Kansas, its needs, how to generate more fiscal support from the state and other topics that probably come before the regents year after year.
With colleges and universities facing the possibility of very modest, if any, fiscal increases, now would seem to be the time for regents to make a much greater commitment to telling their story of why the schools under their jurisdiction need and deserve far better funding.
With Kansas University leaders and the regents intent on making KU a special school with different admission standards and different research goals, they will have to do an even better job of convincing legislators and taxpayers that KU deserves and needs more money than the other regents universities on a per-student basis.
Regents should get tough in demanding they get superior work, not just average performances, from their chancellor and presidents.
As this writer has noted in previous columns, there is no way the nine-member Board of Regents can do an adequate job of monitoring the 32 state institutions they oversee and coordinate.
The governor or lawmakers should study whether to expand the number of regents and create a separate “eyes and ears” body for each school that would help keep the regents informed about what is going on at the campuses. Recent activities on Mount Oread offer excellent proof that regents have either been blind, in the dark or didn’t act on troubling problems.
If KU is to be a special institution, with special goals, should KU have its own board of regents or should KU, Kansas State and maybe even Wichita State have one board while the other universities are guided by another body?
Has the time come for someone with first-hand experience as a university faculty member to be a regent? Do any current regents really know what goes on at a university campus and do they understand and realize chancellors and president can, and frequently do, hoodwink regents?
Do regents listen to the concerns of faculty members and do they realize the greatly reduced, almost neutered, role of faculty in university guidance? Faculty used to play a significant role in the affairs of a university. No longer!
It is hoped those at this week’s regents retreat gave serious, very serious, thought to how they can impose more demanding standards or expectations in all areas of performance on the campuses under their jurisdiction — how they can improve the excellence of their schools, even though substantially increased funding may be difficult to obtain.
It is natural for those living in university communities to be sensitive to the needs of their schools, but adequate funding for all levels of education should be a high priority for all Kansans, no matter where they live.
However, those in education should be far more committed themselves in working for proper funding, rather than sitting on the sidelines, asking others to do the heavy lifting.