As the school year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about the mission and challenges of public education in Kansas.
Each year in August, we welcome more than 400,000 Kansas kids to our schoolhouse doors. Some of those kids have spent the summer playing sports, going to camp, hanging out at the pool or working on their 4-H projects for the county fair. Some have been flipping burgers, mowing lawns or babysitting to save for a car or other fun stuff. Maybe they’ve done an internship somewhere.
Other Kansas kids hit school in August after working not for pocket change but to put food on the family table. Still others spent the summer hopscotching from food banks to community meal sites and even to the local emergency shelter, one step ahead of hunger, neglect or abuse.
Kansas public schools in 286 districts around the state welcome all of those kids with open arms and a commitment to preparing them for life. We teach them reading, writing and math and how to be a good citizen. We teach them to be rocket scientists, farmers, chefs, teachers, auto mechanics and small business owners. That’s our mission and we’re proud of it.
And we go to bat for those kids when they need us.
Over the years Kansans have gone to the state’s legislature or courts and said, “There are kids in our state who aren’t getting the education they need and deserve. We need your help to fix that.”
In the 1970s and 1990s, the legislature responded to statewide inequities in local tax support for public schools by passing laws to ensure a kid’s education doesn’t depend on where they live. Those laws were prompted by court cases, but the legislature said in effect, “We recognize the problems and we’re going to fix them. Your lawyer can stand down.”
The 2000s brought No Child Left Behind and a focus on educational progress and lots of testing. Although NCLB is now moldering on the dust heap of history, it forced Kansans to hold ourselves accountable for educating not just the lucky kids but EVERY Kansas kid.
That focus on educating all Kansas kids triggered the Montoy case, which was brought on behalf of a kid whose parents felt he wasn’t getting the education he deserved. The Kansas Supreme Court, in that case, found there were wide, funding-based disparities and told the state legislature to fix it.
That’s how government works: the legislature passes laws and citizens have the right to seek legal help if the laws aren’t working.
Now we’re waiting for our Supreme Court to rule on the state’s commitment to our kids’ educational needs. We’ve had a cost study and a study of the cost study and both said schools need more money to serve kids. The legislature did its work and now the Court is doing its Constitutional duty.
In the end, it is simply a matter of what do Kansans want for our kids.