“Once to every man [woman] and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side . . .”
From the Hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” words by James R. Lowell
Recently, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) has been under attack for replacing a 50-year-old piano, one that was used every day in instruction. Our critics contend that we are wasting taxpayer money. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that our purchase of a grand piano is justification for cutting funding to public schools, and is a reason to change how schools are funded in Kansas. No, I am not kidding! Our piano purchase is under attack. Someone watching all of this grandstanding from afar, might interpret this to mean, stop buying pianos for schools and the state revenue shortfall will be solved!
Here is the truth – about the piano, about the tax cuts, about the future of Kansas: The 50-year-old piano we replaced served tens of thousands of students with valor. There comes a point when an instrument, used by high school students over five decades, can no longer be patched and repaired. So the Board of Education replaced it with a new instrument, considered by the experts to be a good piano, but far short of the Cadillac it has been compared with. The real truth is that our state leaders appear to put the “March to Zero” tax reduction plan (which benefited mostly the wealthy, along with business owners) in front of funding for schools, or any other service that is part of state government’s responsibility. It’s not about a piano, or any other expenditure that supports education of our future workforce. It’s about the future of Kansas.
Every generation has a pivotal moment, when we have to figure out where we stand and what we value. For us, here in Kansas, we are at one of those pivotal moments. All of us are going to have to decide: Are we going to continue to sit on the sidelines, and let decades of commitment to excellence in education for all students be destroyed? It seems to me we need to ask ourselves if we are going to allow the blame for the budget problems to be placed on school districts, districts that are working in a fiscally-challenging environment to ensure students receive high quality education? Or are we going to have the courage to stand up and acknowledge that the problem is our tax policy? Are we going to allow our system of public schools to devolve into one where a few are able to get what they need, and everyone else is left with the scraps?
It has been reassuring that in the midst of all this rhetoric, one of our students wrote, and other students signed, a letter to the Governor, asking him to put actions in place that support education for all students in Kansas. We also received a wonderful letter and a small donation from a teacher in Wichita in support of our decision to value arts and music education. I have received dozens and dozens of emails, texts, and tweets in support of public schools. These actions give me hope that education continues to be a high priority for Kansans.
As leaders, we must recognize that good intentions do not always turn out as we hope they might. It reminds me that when I was growing up, I was taught that when you make a mistake, you own that mistake, and you work hard to make things right. Now is our moment to decide, and to urge our legislators to fix the mistakes they have made, and the problems they have created. “It’s Up to Us.”