Editorials

Lawmakers love to meddle in education

Every education-related idea that comes into a legislator’s head, or through the pipeline from some conservative think tank, seems to be finding its way into bill form.
Every education-related idea that comes into a legislator’s head, or through the pipeline from some conservative think tank, seems to be finding its way into bill form. AP

If GOP legislators believe in public education as much as they claim – or as much as Kansans always have – they have a strange way of showing it.

Every idea that comes into a legislator’s head, or through the pipeline from some conservative think tank, seems to be finding its way into bill form, if not necessarily to a committee hearing or floor debate. The real worry is that some of these ill-considered proposals will reach the governor’s desk, and end up as laws that only make it harder for teachers to teach and children to succeed.

The session has seen bills to ease prosecution of teachers for materials deemed harmful to minors, to massively expand the program for tax credits to subsidize private schools (leaving fewer state dollars for public ed or anything else), to force the state’s 286 districts to combine into 132, and to mandate that schools allow air gun clubs and events. Some lawmakers also would like to raid school districts’ reserves, and ignore or evade court rulings that the state increase school funding.

On Wednesday the House Education Committee abruptly approved an unvetted bill that would blow up Kansas’ Common Core-aligned curriculum standards and seemingly also jeopardize Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate college-prep programs in the state. Some also believe the measure could prohibit the Common Core-aligned SAT and ACT college entrance exams, because it calls for all coursework and exams to be aligned with non-Common Core Kansas standards.

Though some proponents say it poses no threat to AP and IB, the bill’s specific mention of both justifies concern. Students might suffer academically and financially, as their AP and IB participation can earn them college credits amounting to a cost- and time-saving head start.

The bill’s fiscal note alone ought to spell its end – an estimated $9 million to throw out more than six years of work and materials and start over on standards for reading, math, science and other subjects.

Every recent legislative session has seen a failed attempt to repeal Common Core and override the painstaking work of the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and local school districts to implement what are known as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

The latest bill only gained the committee’s nod after some moderate Republicans were removed from the panel late last year and replaced with lawmakers friendlier to such ideological claptrap untethered to fiscal or educational reality. The only testimony allowed on the sweeping measure last week came from a Wisconsin professor known for crusading against Common Core. That’s no way to write law.

And the session so far is no way for lawmakers to show they desire the input and buy-in of parents, teachers, administrators, local boards and other stakeholders on a new school finance formula.

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