Saturday Column: Standoff damaging to state’s schools and image

The current tragic, embarrassing and unnecessary stalemate in Topeka relative to what is judged to be sufficient and fair funding for the state’s K-12 public schools shows a lack of leadership, political courage and maturity and genuine concern for the best interests of Kansas and its residents.

The threat or possibility of public schools being forced to shut their doors because of the standoff in Topeka should trigger loud condemnation and forceful demands for immediate action.

Forget how the current situation damages the national image of Kansas. The important thing is to demand that Gov. Sam Brownback, state legislators and the Kansas Supreme Court get their heads together to hammer out a sound, workable plan.

Forget who will appear to be a winner or loser or who stands firm or caves in. This is not a game of “chicken” or a test of who blinks first.

Hopefully, all sides of the years-long debate have been guided by what they think is correct, fair and in the best interests of students. Unfortunately, there is every reason to believe it has become almost a game of raw, no-holds-barred political football.

Aside from the obvious stubbornness in Topeka by the governor, legislators and the Supreme Court, the public also is at fault for not demanding that funding issues be solved.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and interim Kansas State President Richard Myers, as leaders of our state’s highest academic institutions, should show their concern through loud and public demands that the funding question be resolved immediately. Likewise, members of the Kansas Board of Regents, state teachers associations, parent-teacher groups and others who are looked upon as education leaders, should demand the funding puzzle be solved.

Not too many years ago, one of the outstanding nationally recognized positive features of Kansas was its public school system. It was one of the state’s major bragging points. The current situation is an embarrassment that provides material for jokes and ridicule from late-night television personalities, editorial writers and cartoonists.

Kansas currently faces severe fiscal challenges, as do many other states, but there must be, and certainly is, a way to provide proper funding for the state’s K-12 schools. Granted, the constitutional requirement that the state “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” is difficult to define, but the governor and state legislators must work out a plan that satisfies the court.

The deadline for coming up with a plan that answers the court’s demands is only a few weeks away. There is no justification for any delay in hammering out a fair, workable plan.

Forget the politics, forget how it might affect the upcoming legislative elections. Lawmakers and the governor might be surprised by the favorable public reaction if they were to demonstrate cooperation and place the state’s best interests ahead of their own personal convictions.

The state’s children and their education shouldn’t be placed in the center of an OK Corral shootout.