In 1983 President Reagan stood before the press and television cameras at the White House and held up a report titled “A Nation at Risk.” The report warned that test scores were rapidly declining, low teaching salaries and poor teacher training programs were leading to a high turnover rate among educators, and other industrialized countries were threatening to outpace America’s technological superiority.
Thirty-two years later, Kansas is at risk, as Gov. Sam Brownback aims to roll back the clock.
Brownback recently delivered both the State of the State address and his budget. The speech blamed public education for the state’s budget woes, which is false. But Brownback went further and suggested that prior Republican legislators were crooks who conspired to make various student “weightings” too complicated and confusing in the hope to abuse tax dollars.
There seems to be no one he won’t throw under the proverbial bus on the quest to eliminate income taxes.
The governor’s budget essentially rewrites history or, more accurately, erases history. School districts are left wondering how the “block grant” will be allocated to each of the nearly 300 districts.
Everything since the “Nation at Risk” report tells us that students who demonstrate risk factors ranging from poverty to health to geography require significantly more time, talent and treasure to close the achievement gap with their peers. This budget denies those facts.
Under the new budget, each school district is facing unnecessary funding cuts for at least the next two years. This is happening at the same time the rest of the country is investing in education, especially early education.
Brownback has taken none of the steps mentioned by the District Court panel that ruled the state is already violating current constitutional law. Retention and recruitment of quality educators is more difficult than ever in this self-inflicted cannibalization of our education system.
Early education is vital to our state’s future. But only one-fifth of Kansas 4-year-olds have access to state-funded public school.
No other issue does more to drive long-term economic development for businesses than a well-educated workforce. Public education in Kansas is a constitutional priority, and no other governor has done more to put that sacred trust at risk.
Aaron Estabrook is a member of the Manhattan-Ogden school board.