First Bell: Reflections on election night

At first blush, it might look like this week’s elections produced very little change at either the state or national level, especially regarding education.

By my own very rough estimate, based on national news stories, this country just spent around $20 billion on the presidential campaigns and all the congressional races. That includes money spent by the campaigns themselves, the Super PACs and all of the so-called “dark money” that flowed through the campaign season.

At the end of it all, the president was re-elected and Congress remains divided between a Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.

Even in the Kansas Legislature, the party split in the state House and Senate remained virtually unchanged, although by most accounts the Republicans who will take over the Senate are more conservative than the last leadership team.

And even at the State Board of Education, the split between social moderates and conservatives does not appear to have changed much, although the Journal-World will be examining that question in more detail in the days to come.

On closer examination, however, this may be a case where the lack of any change in the balance of power may mean that progress can finally be made on a whole range of issues that have been lingering in the background while decision-makers waited to see whether voters would shift course.

Voters did not change course, and so here’s a brief list of some of the areas where there might be action in the near future.

Starting at the federal level, look for Congress to finally move for reauthorizing a law called ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as “No Child Left Behind.”

ESEA is the original name of the 1960s-era law that directs the flow of federal dollars to to public schools as well as higher education. It comes up for renewal every so often. The last renewal was early in the George W. Bush administration when he pushed for a major overhaul of the way federal aid to K-12 schools is distributed and used.

It was actually due for reauthorization in 2007. That gives you an idea of how deep the partisan gridlock has been in Washington. It was so deep that President Barack Obama eventually gave up waiting for Congress to act, so he sidestepped the legislative branch and began pushing his own reform agenda through a process of granting states conditional waivers from No Child Left Behind.

Kansas received one of those waivers and is now proceeding to scrap the old system of using “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) as the measuring stick for holding schools accountable for the money they receive.

One concern had been that if the elections produced a major change, a new president and Congress might have changed course again by scrapping the waiver program and writing an entirely different new version of ESEA. Now, based on everything I’ve been hearing from state officials and academics, it’s more likely that Congress will reach a compromise that would allow many of the reforms in Obama’s waiver program to remain in place.

Here in Kansas, although Democrats managed to avoid any significant losses in the Legislature, they also did not make any gains. And after most of the moderate Republicans in the Senate were ousted in the GOP primaries in August, that means conservative allies of Gov. Sam Brownback should be firmly in control of both chambers.

We might look for Brownback and the GOP majority to make another push at overhauling the school finance formula. Those efforts, however, could be tempered by a decision from a three-judge panel presiding over the ongoing finance lawsuit.

Yes, we’re still waiting on that decision. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

• Back here at the local level, there is plenty of evidence that life goes on, regardless of how the elections came out.

Lawrence school officials say a second-grade student at Schwegler School was sent home this week with a probable case of pertussis, also known as “whooping cough.” That’s a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pertussis is a common disease in the United States, with periodic epidemics every three to five years and frequent outbreaks. We appear to be in the midst of one of those outbreaks now.

Fortunately in this case, district officials say, everyone else in the student’s class had their vaccinations up to date.

By the way, state law requires public school students to have all their required vaccinations up to date before they can attend school. In Lawrence, the deadline for showing proof of vaccinations was Oct. 1.

• There are five more pre-bond community input sessions on the schedule in the Lawrence school district. Those are occasions when patrons can hear about issues confronting each of the buildings in the district and discuss options for upgrades, improvements and expansions. The Lawrence school board is planning to put a bond issue on the ballot in the April 2 municipal elections to finance the improvements.

Two meetings will be held concurrently at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Broken Arrow Elementary, 2704 Louisiana, and Sunflower Elementary, 2521 Inverness Dr.

Two more meetings will be held concurrently at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Langston Hughes Elementary, 1101 George Williams Way, and Schwegler Elementary, 2201 Ousdahl Rd.

The final meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, at Free State High School, 4700 Overland Dr.