Eagle editorial: Talk more to educators

11/21/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Now that the state appears likely to lose a school-funding lawsuit, Gov. Sam Brownback is calling for more discussions between lawmakers and education officials.

Better late than never – provided the talks aren’t merely political cover.

Brownback wants to break the cycle of Kansas school districts going to court over funding. He wants efforts throughout the year to talk about education goals and find common ground, Associated Press reported.

“Nobody talks to anybody; it’s all handled in litigation,” Brownback said. “If I’ve learned anything in these systems, it’s that if you’re not talking you’re not going to come up with any resolution.”

Litigation to force funding is disruptive and costly, so more talking would be good. It also could help prevent bad policies and misinformation on other education issues.

For example, in his State of the State address early this year, Brownback claimed that “our schools only get 54 cents of every valuable education dollar into the classroom.” If he had talked more with education officials, he would have learned that it’s actually 61.9 percent per the official reports. He also would have learned that there is no research showing a relationship between the 65 percent target he promoted and improved student outcomes.

Brownback also claimed in his address that “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.” Had he talked more to educators, he would have learned that he was citing the wrong test data and the actual total per state assessment tests is about 12 percent – still significant but far less than 29 percent.

Brownback also might not have proposed holding back third-graders who don’t read at grade level if he had talked more with educators and learned that such a mandate is counterproductive.

If Brownback talked more to school officials, perhaps he would stop suggesting that school funding hasn’t been cut. He could talk to Kevin R. McWhorter, a Goddard school board member who wrote on the Opinion pages Sunday about how his district has struggled with a 16 percent operating cut.

If lawmakers talked more to educators, they would learn that claims about bloated school district cash reserves are exaggerated. They also would learn that Common Core is not a plot by President Obama to brainwash kids.

Of course, it is important for Brownback and lawmakers to talk to a broad range of educators, not just to those who agree with them. So far, they are not off to a good start.

Brownback is hosting education talks at the governor’s residence next week. As of Tuesday, the guest list included GOP legislative leaders and superintendents from districts that aren’t part of the lawsuit, AP reported.

To be worthwhile, conversations need to be sincere and not just for show.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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