GOP does not put kids first
By Rod Haxton, editor
In the final days remaining before July 1, we feel pretty safe in saying that most Kansans hope the state legislature will draft a school funding plan that meets with the approval of the Supreme Court.
That said, we aren’t sure of many people willing to bet on that outcome.
The skepticism is understandable when Kansas politics has reached the point that if you put conservative lawmakers at the same table as the Tasmanian Devil, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam it would be impossible to identify who are the crazy ones. That’s because, like Wile E. Coyote, these same ultraconservatives are living in their own reality where the governor can strap an Acme rocket to his back, lose power in mid-flight, fall 2,000 feet to the ground, dust himself off and try again.
No matter how badly they are wrecking the state’s economy and neglecting our infrastructure, they are just one Acme super-sized slingshot away from success.
In spite of their failures, the Republican leadership has spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince a majority of Kansans they are the only ones who truly care about our children. In fact, House Speaker Ray Merrick’s office sent out another of their weekly e-mails reminding us that “kids come first” which was almost enough to make us choke on our roadrunner stew.
These Republicans claim that our school children are being held “hostage until taxpayers pony up more money” to line the pockets of greedy attorneys. They further claim that the fate of our kids rests with “courageous Republicans who have stood for children on vote after vote.”
If you believe that then you obviously own shares in Acme Rocket Company.
Here are some statistics that won’t be discussed at the next Looney Tunes convention:
•Earlier this year, Gov. Brownback and his economic wizards recommended robbing (they call it sweeping) $50.6 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund into the state general fund in order to cover up for their fiscal mismanagement.
They have sliced millions of dollars from the CIF which will impact early childhood programs in the state.
•In the Kids Count profile for Kansas that was released this week, 126,000 children - or 18 percent - of the kids in this state are living in poverty. That’s up from 15 percent in 2008.
•In that same report, the overall health of Kansas youth has dropped from 13th to 24th, nationally.
•From 2008 to 2014, the number of children living in high-poverty areas in Kansas increased to 65,000 - or nine percent of all kids - compared to two percent in 2000.
This isn’t the data you’d expect from a state that claims to be putting kids first.
But, the trip down fantasy lane gets better when lawmakers talk about education.
For example, the GOP boasts of its efforts to allow individuals with actual work experience to teach in a classroom.
In theory, it might sound great to have a mechanical engineer teach physics or to learn biology from a physician (Merrick’s examples), but that experience doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to teach others. Nor does it mean an individual is prepared to confront the many other challenges involving students on a daily basis.
It’s yet another effort by conservative Republicans to diminish the teaching profession and convince the public that anyone “with a real job” can do it.
GOP conservatives care so much about public education they have tried to provide basic state aid funding directly to parents who wish to send their children to private schools or have them home-schooled.
Exactly what is the academic standard for home-schooling students? What level of accountability would be demanded?
Is this putting kids first or merely eroding the foundation of financial support for our public schools?
Ultraconservatives have been successful in eliminating tenure protection for public school teachers under the guise it was the only way of getting rid of the countless poor teachers filling our classrooms.
Contrary to the propaganda, tenure in K-12 public education in Kansas was never a guarantee of a job for life. Tenure only offered certain due process protections. A bad teacher with tenure could still be fired provided the administration was willing to do their homework. We’ve seen it done.
However, it provided conservatives the illusion of doing far more than they actually did.
Which brings us to school funding. The other issues were merely entrées. This is the main course.
Merrick and fellow conservatives claim the original finance plan “didn’t allow school districts the flexibility to get money to the needs of the students.” It’s no surprise that in their best Yosemite Sam impersonation, ultraconservatives are firing lies in every possible direction in hopes that no one will notice they keep missing the target.
While the old finance formula may not have been perfect, over the course of more than 20 years it had been continually modified by weighting factors that earmarked money into transportation, English as a Second Language programs, assistance for at-risk students, etc., in a calculated effort to put money where it’s most needed so that all schools - rich and poor - can provide the best educational opportunity for their students.
The old formula recognized that each district is unique and that some districts have greater needs in some areas than others.
Now compare that to the grant program which the Republican leadership says is a “new method of getting instruction dollars to students.”
New doesn’t mean better.
Funding is frozen for a two-year period (possibly longer depending on whether Republicans actually come up with another formula and depending on the Supreme Court). Freezing funding levels for schools, without recognizing that their everyday operating expenses continue to increase, does not translate into more money in the classroom.
It does not put kids first.
And, what of districts with increasing enrollment? How does the freeze help those kids?
Rather than deal with this reality, ultraconservatives would rather blame lawyers and Democrats. They create the smokescreen that educators, administrators, school board members, the courts and parents need to quit thinking of themselves and start putting kids first.
Merrick and his ultraconservative colleagues have been trying to sell the narrative that they are the victims . . . like the students of Kansas.
Of course, that’s delusional. Or, as someone living in Merrick’s looney world might say, “That’s just cwazy.”
Rod Haxton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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