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Eagle editorial: Legislative mandates are ironic

  • Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at 5:23 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at 5:25 p.m.

At least one state lawmaker saw the irony of the “Celebrate Freedom Week” bill mandating that public schools devote a week in mid-September each year to teaching students about the country’s founding.

“How ironic that we have a bill with ‘freedom’ in the name that is one more mandate on local government,” said Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

But that’s been a pattern this legislative session, as local-control lawmakers keep finding new ways to control locals.

The bill, which the House approved last week, would require schools to “educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded.” It also mandates that “the religious references in the writings of the Founding Fathers shall not be censored when presented as part of such instruction.”

One of the bill’s proponents, Rep. Kelly Meigs, R-Lenexa, said Freedom Week “should be a fun time.”

Everyone agrees that learning about our nation’s founding is important (though students might debate how “fun” it is). But this bill assumes that schools aren’t already teaching this – and that lawmakers know best what needs to be taught and when.

As Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, noted, the bill was advanced without discussion in committee about the civics instruction the State Board of Education already requires.

“We’re making assumptions about something that we know nothing about,” Trimmer said.

Wichita schools superintendent John Allison later called the bill “a poster child” for legislation being proposed without discussion with school districts.

Teaching this in mid-September also may not match up with the civics curriculum at schools. Did lawmakers ever consider that schools teach topics at certain times for a reason?

Such arrogant cluelessness is one reason lawmakers shouldn’t micromanage schools. But they can’t seem to help themselves.

Another bill introduced this session would require that schools teach doubts about global warming. Gov. Sam Brownback wants schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t proficient in reading.

To add insult to irony, two other bills seek to expand charter schools, which would be exempt from many public school laws and regulations including graduation requirements and curriculum standards. If these regulations are a problem, why do lawmakers keep adding to them?

Another irony that lawmakers never seem to get is that their mandates are a big reason why they keep losing lawsuits over school funding. In determining whether the Legislature is financing education suitably, as required by the Kansas Constitution, the courts look at state and federal mandates and what they cost (per the Legislature’s own studies).

Instead of learning that they shouldn’t meddle, lawmakers keep mandating more. That isn’t just ironic, it’s moronic.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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