Growing up in Kansas, my family, as perhaps many of your families, has long held the belief that a quality education system is a fundamental right we expect as Americans. A right that we have never taken for granted, but one that we achieve through hard work, determination, and effort.
In recent years, many of us have come to feel that the common value in education as the number one priority of the state has been placed at risk. It seems the very values that have made this state a great place for families, communities, and businesses is under direct attack. Education has become a political hot potato. While everyone claims to support public schools, many actions appear to say just the opposite. Funding for schools has been cut by millions of dollars, and state revenues are declining as a result of the most dramatic tax reductions in Kansas history.
Where did we lose sight of the fact that education is key to a strong economy and strong communities, and critical for thriving businesses? The New York Times published an editorial about Kansas in early January titled, “What’s the Matter with Kansas Schools?” I want to ask, “What’s the Matter with Kansans Valuing Tax Cuts above Education?” Really? Have we considered the ramifications of these actions on our communities and way of life? Perhaps Kansas is comfortable accelerating a system of the “haves” and “have nots.”
Well, just when my neighbors and I were discussing that Kansas may not be a place we want to continue to be a part of, the Kansas Supreme Court restored my hope. The Supreme Court, on March 7, ruled in favor of Kansas school children, reaffirming that all children deserve access to quality education. Specifically, in the Gannon vs. State of Kansas school finance lawsuit, the Court ruled that funding for K–12 education must be equitable for all children. The Court ordered that all districts must receive funding that is equalized with that which is available to the wealthy communities in the state. This was a great ruling for children across the state.
However, the Court stopped short of ruling on what determines adequate funding, and sent the question of adequacy of funding back to the lower court for further deliberation. My hope now rests on the difficult decisions that are before our elected officials. What will the legislature do in response to the order for equity for school finance? Following the lower court ruling, what will our leaders do? The answer is not yet clear. What I do know is that victory has been claimed by parties on both sides of the issue. Supporters of education as a fundamental right have celebrated the Court directing the legislature to provide– through structure and implementation – a system that is reasonably calculated to have ALL Kansas students meet or exceed the educational standards established in Kansas law. On the other side of the issue, the talk is about taking funds away from schools serving large numbers of children considered at-risk for academic failure, in order to avoid allocating additional money for K-12 schools. That’s like taking money out of our left pocket and putting it in our right pocket, and telling the Courts and the people of Kansas that “all is well now.” Or to put it another way, it’s like Eddie Haskell in Leave it to Beaver saying, “That’s a lovey dress you’re wearing, Mrs. Cleaver!” (Some of you will have to “Google” that to understand it, but let me just say if you buy that, I have a bridge to sell you.)
All of this leaves me continuing to wonder: Is education a fundamental right in Kansas, or is that just rhetoric? What I do know is that Kansans need to carefully consider the implications of the decisions that will be made as a result of the school finance debate. Preparing our kids for their futures is clearly at stake. It’s Up to Us.