Journey of a Superintendent: Providing Funding for a ‘Suitable’ Education

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of Schools

Winter storms mean many sleepless nights for school superintendents and their staffs. Making the decision about whether or not to have school in session brings criticism regardless of the end result. There are always good arguments on both sides. Earlier this month, after a night of blowing winds and hearing snowplows preparing the roads, I went out to several bus stops. I wanted to talk to parents and students, and get their thoughts on my decision. It wasn’t that I wanted them to agree with me; I really wanted to hear what they thought. I believe every leader needs to listen to as many voices as possible, in order to make the best decisions.

Now some decisions, like snow days, have a short-term impact, while others can change the entire landscape. The decisions we make now about the quality of education that each child in Kansas receives are certainly long lasting, landscape altering, adult moments with implications for our children.

Earlier this month, while pushing, plowing and trudging through the snow, we learned about the Governor’s recommendations to reduce state funding to schools and classrooms, both for the current school year and the next. The news wasn’t a surprise, yet somehow the biting sub-zero wind is still a shock, even when you know it’s coming. The proposal means a loss of millions of dollars to support schools in my district.

Communities are being told education receives too much of the state tax revenue. It is being suggested that each community should be allowed to fund the type of education desired for their children. All of this may look right on the surface. However, where I struggle with “let the communities decide” is that we all know that the economic resources available to different communities are not equal.

For many communities, there is no possible way to increase local taxes in order to provide more local spending on schools. The resources in those communities just don’t exist. Are we about to make decisions that reinforce a situation that those that have, get more, and those that don’t, fall even farther behind?

Our Founders realized a well-educated citizenry was vital to economic development (not to mention democracy). In fact, Article VI of the Kansas Constitution says that the legislature must provide funding for a “suitable” education. It is the term “suitable” that is at the heart of the local control issue. Some suggest that once we define “suitable,” then the state will provide funding for those core areas within the suitable definition.  Anything more than what is included in the definition would be up to the local community to provide. Play this out for a moment with me. Will arts be in the definition of suitable? What will suitability mean for our special needs populations? Since we know that some students require additional resources to get them to high levels of achievement, will “suitable” include those additional resources? Are we prepared to create a system of the haves and the have-nots? Doesn’t every child in Kansas deserve an excellent and quality education?

We will make it through the winter no matter how harsh, counting the days until spring. At the same time, we are in serious economic times, where our decisions will reveal what we believe about quality lives for all Kansans. Important decisions have to be made. Our state budget must be balanced. What will our decisions be as Kansans during a time of declining fiscal resources? If I could be assured that as much involvement would be given to the issue of “suitable” education as is given to a superintendent on a snow day, I would have faith we could make the best decision for our children. It will take many of us to stand up and brave the elements for our children’s voices to be represented. Remember, “it’s up to us” to shape our children’s futures, and I encourage us to get involved and to do so soon.

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7 Responses to Journey of a Superintendent: Providing Funding for a ‘Suitable’ Education

  1. Jessica Kile says:

    Dr. Lane,
    My name is Jessica Kile. I am a sophomore at Sumner Academy. I really appreciate all that you do for this school district. I participate in forensics and debate. I enjoy both of them and I really would not like for them to get cut because of the Kansas Government. Just one suggestion that I have is to get a group of kids from Wyandotte county together so that we can talk to some people in the government. I know that I am not the only child or the only person that likes to participate in sports like softball or debate and forensics. Those sports or after school activities and clubs are what keeps kids in school. Some kids don’t enjoy school, but they enjoy playing basketball so they go to school and make the grades so that they can play. I feel that the first thing that will get cut from schools is the sports program and I can not stand to watch that happen. Our county doesn’t have as much money as other counties and that just means that we have to work twice as hard as other students. The students in USD 500 work hard and they try hard. We can’t just sit back and watch the government take stuff from us. For some people school, sports, and friends is all they have. We need to teem up together as students and adults and fight the government about this because students deserve a voice and I feel that if the students in USD 500 voice their feelings the government would be changed.

    • Dr. Lane says:

      Well said Jessica. Let’s think about how to involve other students and youth in the conversation. I applaud you for having the courage to say something. I heard a speech just two weeks ago on Martin Luther King Day where the pastor stated “somebody has to say something”. Now more than ever we need to have the courage to stand up, take a stand and say something. Thank you for having that courage. “It’s Up to Us” to shape our future and the future of our community.

  2. Mom of 4 great kids says:

    I am a teacher at Wyandotte High School and a resident of Wyandotte County and I agree that letting the communities decide their level of education would be disasterous for the Wyandotte Co. kids. Resources just aren’t available to many of the residents in the WYCO area. The funding would be the main issue! Keep fighting for the rights of all students, Dr. Lane!

  3. Choura says:

    At last evening’s Board meeting there were awards given to 2 exemplary employees and another was recognized for receiving a State award. These employees are amazing and inspirational. It is frightening to think that these and other teachers and support staff will be asked to do more with less as the state continues cuts. I wish the legislators could come and see first hand what fantastic work is being done and what is still needed to give our kids every opportunity for their futures. Their success impacts us all!

  4. Teacher says:

    Did you go out to the bus stops today? Did you honestly think it was safe to send kids and buses out on several inches of ice?! You said there are good arguments on both sides. I just can’t see a good argument for endangering students and staff.

  5. Jessica Walker says:

    Hi Dr. Lane,

    I am a senior at F.L. Schlagle, and I feel that lack of school spirit and poor motivation has been holding us back for all these years.
    Throughout my years at Schlagle, and now as member of your Student Advisory Board, I have met and befriended some of the most educated young people in the KCK area. One of the problems with some of them is that they are not being pushed and motivated by teachers, peers or even parents. This upsets me. I believe that all of our young people, ( especially the ones who grew up in poor surroundings) should get the attention and guidance they so deserve. Not every family lives in a stable household. A lot of kids who live in the district alone have families that are struggling growing up. These kids have self motivation in themselves and are driven to get out of their situation by furthering their education. Other kids are stuck in the situations they are in because more than likely they are the caretakers of younger siblings, etc.
    I believe that overall in order to make this district more successful and to grow, we have to first get our parents involved in the success of our children. In every school in our district. Secondly, We need better teacher/student relationships especially in the high schools. There are too many kids that aren’t getting attention at home or even a person to talk to. Finally we need our students to have a laid- out road map of their future. This basically has to do with college and tech school. If we get more students into college from our district, this alone will speak volumes to our nations capital.

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