We Are Failing In Kansas

On Thursday the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a new funding formula enacted by the Kansas Legislature last year is unconstitutional. In essence, the courts said that schools in Kansas are underfunded.

At the highest level in our state government, there is an ugly divide on this issue. Last year, the legislature scrapped the school funding plan that was in place in Kansas. A new temporary “block grant” system was approved to be in place for three years while a new permanent funding plan was designed.

By a controlling faction of those in power, Thursday’s decision that the new formula is unconstitutional has been classified as, among other things, the vengeance of “activist leftist judges.” Conversely, there are those celebrating it as a “victory for children across the state.”

I’m not sure which it is: the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But I do know this; it is our children’s future, and consequently our state’s future, that is at stake here. We are failing them.

Is education under attack in Kansas? I have asked my local legislators, and even Governor Brownback, that question. The governor assured me it is not. A couple of my local legislators say it is not. But at least one said that it is.

Whether education in Kansas is under attack or not, there is a perception that it is. One of my early radio mentors was fond of saying, “Perception is reality.”

I will say it. Our schools are not getting enough money. My wife is a teacher. I see it everyday.

Every summer we wait for the big back-to-school sales and hit them early. We have to buy supplies for her room. But I am okay with that. I buy some of my own supplies for my job as well.

What I’m not okay with is what is happening in our classrooms. I know in Salina it is happening. Our classes are too big. And they are only getting bigger. But, as our classes are getting bigger, our teachers are getting fewer.

In lieu of funding more teachers, we are asking those we still have to do more with less: take many more students and have exponentially less time for preparation and grading. And by doing this, we are burning out those teachers we have left.

My wife cries now because of how overwhelming it has become. I cry for her and for what we have become.

In the end, it is our students we are failing. They are not immune to what is happening. They see it: the divide in Topeka, their large classes, their stressed teachers sometimes not able to give them the time or attention they crave and deserve.

Earlier this month Wichita State University released a census forecast. The number of Kansas residents older than 65 is expected to double in the next 50 years, outnumbering children for the first time. What does that mean? It means that our children are leaving.

I have twins in college. My daughter is majoring in Wildlife Biology at Fort Hays State University. My son is majoring in Theater Education at the University of Central Missouri. I’m a little biased, but both are excelling and, I believe, are among the best and brightest young people we have to offer. They will each end up with teaching degrees. Neither has the desire to teach in Kansas. As a matter of fact, my son specifically chose an out-of-state college so that his teaching degree would not be from Kansas.

Is education under attack in Kansas? While we continue to bicker and point fingers, our children aren’t sticking around to find out.