Suitable Education

By Kevin Gray

Just when I was finishing my column for this week, a more pressing topic caught my attention. I had read a brief story online from the Lawrence Journal World about a “suitable education”. Then, I was struck by something our new Governor had said in his inaugural address using the same word, “suitable,” pertaining to Kansas public education.

The gist of the story was how Governor Sam Brownback’s decision to “assign legislative leaders to tackle school finance,” trumped plans by Kansas Rep. Tom Sloan, Lawrence Republican, to create a “constitutional education suitability commission” made up of “teachers, administrators, parents of public school students, representatives from higher education, employers and others.”

This all led me to Governor Brownback’s use of the word “suitable” in his State of the State address to describe the kind of education he would like to see for each Kansas student.

In Brownback’s own words: “I invite this Legislature to define suitability and end the confusion. This will provide us with a definition of what we need to undertake reform of our school finance formula and provide our school districts with stable, sustainable funding for the future. Let the Legislature resolve school finance… not the courts, so we can send more money to the classroom, not the courtroom.”

In 2001, Sen. Bob Lyon, a Winchester Republican said about a study, “Frankly, there is no consensus on what is a suitable education. That made it difficult to formulate a list of items to ask the consultant to study.” By the way, the study cost $225,000.

Then in 2004, legislators once again tried to determine what a suitable education might be as a cost cutting effort. In a piece from the Associated Press, writer John Milburn, wrote, “…legislators rejected proposed language defining a suitable education,” but their committee still expected to settle, “…on a definition that, among other things, tells districts that the first priority is funding math, English, science and social sciences programs so that students satisfy graduation requirements.” I could not find that definition anywhere.

The original drafters of the Kansas State constitution had originally used the phrasing, “…shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” In addition, the legislature is bound by the wording, “The legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools.”

In my position of substitute teacher in four different school districts – Osawatomie, Prairie View, Ottawa and Spring Hill – and after teaching for 30 years in Paola, I have had my eyes wide open of late. I see trimming and cutting already going on.

Osawatomie Superintendent Gary French was correct, when he said in a recent Osawatomie Journal story, “We are already running pretty lean.” Other districts can say the same. No new hires, when new teachers and staff are desperately needed. Teachers already have or will lose their positions. Library positions have been cut in other districts, as well as a lot of reshuffling “in-house” to avoid firing or hiring. But what now, other than cramming too many students in what are already crowded classrooms?

Districts are already doing less and less in custodial and maintenance areas, which will end up costing the state down the road. I also see potential safety issues in the offing.

What we have right now is barely suitable. Schools are meeting the needs of Kansas students, but it’s getting tougher and tougher with fewer teachers and support staff in light of rising classroom numbers.

How will Prairie View USD 362, where Governor Brownback received his start on the way to the Kansas Statehouse to Washington, D.C. and, then, to the governor’s mansion, do it, when they have to cleave $365,000? And, no doubt, more next year?” Osawatomie must cut another $132,000.

Who knows where this will end up? A Lawrence Journal World editorial put it this way, “The effort now seems to be to figure out how much education the state is responsible for funding. House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who has been assigned to lead the task of defining suitability, indicated that he expects the state’s responsibility to be defined as more than reading, writing and arithmetic, but less than it is doing now.”

One more thing: the Kansas courts will have the last say, unless a constitutional amendment enters the picture. But, even then, the word “suitable” can be a slippery slope from past experience, and the state, instead finds itself blowing off more money on legal fees rather than on students in Kansas classrooms.

Short URL: http://osawatominews.com/?p=823

Posted by admin on Jan 26 2011. Filed under Kevin Gray, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Suitable Education”

  1. This is a very good article Kevin. If the state wants to tell you what and how to teach to benefit the state, but won’t help pay from their coffer’s, the tax payers will pay more in increased county taxes to help pay for education. How is this better for everybody? The education is more important than our state government being able to pass the buck like the federal goverment did to them. Ultimately we will all pay in ways that are more important than monetarily. I see the basic foundation of the country being chipped away. Our children’s education is the future of the country, not the governments checking account$. I realize this is a slippery slope talking about government spending and accountability, they all have excuses for it, but you know what they say about excuses….

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