It’s not surprising that Kansans are confused, frustrated, angry and/or fed up with the ongoing debate about funding for the state’s education programs — K-12 and higher education.
Last week’s news stories told of Kansas fourth- and eighth-graders ranking near the top among the nation’s schools in math and reading. Another story told of the increase in administrative and non-teaching positions in Kansas school districts.
Between 1993 and 2011, one report said, student enrollment grew by 7 percent while teacher numbers were up 16 percent and administrators and other staff positions rose 36 percent.
This report claimed if Kansas had limited the growth of non-teaching staff members to the 7 percent increase in enrollment, it could have saved $346.7 million a year or given every teacher a $10,000 pay increase.
Another story told of Kansas House and Senate members touring the Kansas Board of Regents universities to get a first-hand look at how administrators at these schools are using state tax dollars. They want to find out the effectiveness and efficiency of each institution.
For years, some in Kansas have been highly critical of the level of funding for education, particularly at the K-12 level, and yet, various reports indicate Kansas students do quite well in national comparisons.
Spokespeople for teachers unions are harsh in their criticisms, as are many who serve on local school boards. Whether at the K-12 level or at the post-secondary level, supporters of each think they are being shortchanged in fiscal support.
The current easy and convenient target is Gov. Sam Brownback. Part of this criticism probably is justified or based on the sincere concerns of many, but a good percentage of the criticism is purely raw politics.
Most states are facing fiscal challenges with various recipient groups calling for bigger slices of the taxpayer pie. However, several things are quite clear.
Administrators at both the K-12 and higher education levels could exercise more control of expenses and expenditures. It’s just as true in education as it is in business, industry and government.
Whether in education or in government, those in control of these dollars should spend them more carefully than they would spend their own money. Unfortunately, it is so easy to spend someone else’s money.
Another factor in the school funding matter is that those in education do a poor job of telling their story in an honest, convincing manner. This is particularly true with school superintendents, who too often prefer others to be out front discussing their budget woes. It also applies to the university chancellor and presidents, too many of whom lack enthusiasm, respect for the public or state legislators and are not articulate or inspiring in their efforts to enthuse the public to support greater fiscal support.
Money is tight, and the large majority of Kansans and Americans are living on tight budgets. (The only ones sheltered from the tight budgets are those in intercollegiate sports.) Those in education must tell a more convincing story. They must convince members of the public that they are getting 100 cents out of every dollar and that these dollars are being spent on the appropriate targets: students and teachers, rather than on those classified as administrators and other staff.
Sadly, it’s just too easy to blame the governor.