Archive for Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday Column: How important is education to Kansas leaders?

January 11, 2014


The Kansas Legislature will start its 2014 session in two days. It is supposed to last 90 days, but if history is any model, it likely will end up exceeding this time frame with many of the most important and difficult issues being decided in the last few hours, thereby causing extensions of the prescribed timetable.

One of the most-discussed issues leading up to the opening of the session is the matter of state funding for education: K-12 and higher education.

School superintendents, university leaders, those serving on the Kansas Board of Regents and others directly involved in education are wringing their hands about what state lawmakers, and the courts, will do about funding for education.

All kinds of dire predictions have been made about what could, or will, happen if the state doesn’t loosen its purse strings to make up for a perceived shortchanging of education in recent years and provide a proper level of funding for the coming year.

Year after year, the public is told there is a direct correlation between the quality of education and the general health of the state: its economic vitality, its attractiveness, quality of life, growth and every other favorable measurement.

If that’s true, why wouldn’t legislators and taxpayers in every state do whatever they could to make sure their school system — K-12 and higher education — measured up in every respect in its level of fiscal support?

Why would there be any question in the minds of state lawmakers and Kansas residents that it is essential to provide sound funding for education? If there is any question as to what is right, wouldn’t they make the mistake of being a bit more generous rather than trying to shave off a few dollars?

However, that doesn’t seem to be the situation,

As could be expected, those Kansans working in education, those whose livelihood depends on paychecks from school systems and the state, are vitally interested in proper funding.

But who else is interested other than merely offering lip service on the issue? Those appointed to the Board of Regents are supposed to oversee operation of the universities and community colleges, but how effective are these governor-appointed individuals?

Who in the state of Kansas today could be pointed to as the champion for education? Who has the respect of the public and state legislators? Who could rally and enthuse the public to demand legislators design their spending and taxation plans to make sure Kansas does indeed have properly funded, top-flight, nationally recognized K-12 and higher education systems?

Again, if there is a direct connection between a state getting ahead, being a winner in many respects and the quality of public education, shouldn’t this deserve to be a high priority, almost demanding the support and endorsement of the state’s most effective, influential leaders?

Yes, it’s easy to ask questions and call for action but far tougher to put these concerns into action. There are no easy answers or solutions, but the future of the state should be a major concern and should merit the attention and efforts of the best and most effective and respected Kansans.

Just how important is an excellent — not merely an average or adequate — system of education in the state in the eyes of the majority of Kansans?