Funding our public schools consistently is in the headlines, and is certainly in the forefront of the conversations of superintendents and boards of education. Recently the American Association of School Administrators featured several articles about the challenges school boards and superintendents are facing as we work to provide high quality education to every student in our nation.
Kansas is no different. Kansas has made massive reductions in state funding to support public schools. In the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools alone, we have lost $63 million in state aid over the last seven years, with $13 million cut just this past year. We continue to forge ahead, staying focused and determined to do whatever it takes to reach our goal of each student graduating prepared for college and careers in a global society, and at every level, performance being on-track and on-time for success.
Still, I am worried. My concern is not about the challenges we face as we stretch ourselves to be one of the best school districts in the nation. In KCKPS, we have a great team of dedicated staff, excellent teachers and students willing to put forth the effort to succeed. I am not worried about our commitment to becoming one of the best school systems in the nation. I know we will succeed. What keeps me up at night is another kind of fear. It is the fear that we are about to change a basic value we have held as Kansans. We have long prided ourselves on the fact that all citizens deserve access to a high quality education. We believe, and have evidence to prove, that education is the way out of poverty and the only way to access a quality life. Yet, we are on the verge of sanctioning a system of the “haves and have nots.” A system that tells a child their access to education is dependent on their zip code! Really, is that what we are coming to in this state and nation?
Changes are being made under the guise of “local control” and a struggling economy. It’s persuasive to speak of local control, and to encourage communities to spend whatever they want (and can afford) on their schools. I tend to come down on the side of less government in our lives. However, local communities do not all have access to the same resources. So those wealthy, growing communities can pay their teachers whatever they want, build new high technology supported schools, and offer a wide range of experiences for their students, while the rest of us, well . . . Are we willing to leave the citizens, the children, in less fortunate areas behind? Our actions will determine our future. What will it be? Will we choose an educational divide or, the belief in quality education for all? “It’s Up to Us.”