My nephew rides one of those motorcycles referred to as a pocket rocket. I worry about him as he takes off on this powerful machine, exuberantly pursuing his life’s passions. Will he be careful and make good, sound decisions? Will he plot his course with care, but with just enough risk to make life interesting, while he finds his purpose?
My hopes and dreams for my nephew are not unlike those I hold for the students I serve in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. The month of May was filled with celebrations and send-offs. As I watched nearly 1,000 students graduate, it was particularly gratifying to see students graduate with college credit or technical career certificates. What a thrill it was to honor more than 100 students who graduated as Kansas Scholars (30 or higher score on the ACT and a 3.90 GPA). I can’t help but wonder, as I do with my own family members: Are they prepared? Did we do enough to set them up for success moving forward? For many the answer will be “Yes!” Sadly, as I watch these extraordinary young people move forward, I know the answer for far too many is “No.”
I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I have faced (and I know many teachers and administrators are up at night, too) worrying about how to meet the needs of each of our students. We know what to do, and for most we are successful. Strong family and community support, paired with excellent teaching, propels hundreds of our students forward, fully prepared for whatever road they travel. For me, it’s knowing that we have even one student who graduates without the skills necessary to compete in today’s world that keeps me up at night. We must do whatever it takes, and provide the resources necessary to prepare each and every student.
This week, I face one of those “do whatever it takes” moments as I testify in the school funding lawsuit here in Kansas. The trial begins today, and I am the “lead-off” witness for the plaintiffs. The basis of the case is that the Kansas Legislature, responsible for providing suitable funding to educate its citizens, has failed to allocate the funds necessary to meet its own state mandate. Instead, dramatic cuts in school funding have lead to reductions of teachers and staff, and the elimination of vital programs and supports. The very outcomes necessary for, and demand by, a highly competitive global economy (not to mention our state’s own laws and regulations) are threatened. Well, that is, at least for the students who come from a community like KCK that is rich with pride and dreams for the future, but where almost 90% of our children lack the economic resources to realize those dreams on their own. An adequate and equitably-funded education is their only way to a promising future.
It’s up to us to make a difference. Will we make decisions that open the door of opportunity for all children in Kansas? Stayed tuned.