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Still learning lessons about education

From the beginning of our state, Kansas parents have boosted for better schools. No sooner had the first pioneers built sod houses than they organized school districts and hired teachers.

Yes, they saw to it that their children learned the three R's of reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic -- and a great deal more. Even today, when the flight of youngsters to cities has depopulated much of rural Kansas, the school buildings remain to proudly proclaim our quest for education.

A half century ago, Kansans shared another educational phenomenon. It was after World War II that our government financed the highly successful G.I. Bill that sent thousands of armed service veterans to college. The cost of that noble experiment was small in comparison to the taxes that the veterans of World War II and Korea paid in increased taxes.

In fact, education became such an integral part of our society that most parents tried to provide a college education for every child.

The annual school meeting became a part of those decades of Kansas civilization. The local board of education set a budget and contracted with teachers. Then, in June, they called an annual meeting which provided the legal basis and much of the taxes to pay for the schools. While some patrons might have been reluctant, the district's taxpayers footed the bill with a sizable mill levy.

This situation was relatively trouble-free with only mild discussions erupting about the kindergarten through 12th grade curricula. Many high school seniors succeeded in college and went on to outstanding accomplishments. Naturally, some people pushed for improved schools and better-trained teachers, and much of this was done.

In relatively recent decades, most Kansas schools have been funded by the Kansas Legislature, and almost every term they try to reinvent education. We were told some rural districts weren't taxing themselves enough, so the present system thinks it is best to collect state taxes and then send these tax monies back to the school districts for a more proper distribution.

You know what this entails because you have watched it occur with much of your federal taxes. You also have learned who pressure groups think should pay taxes and how they want to return this public money to taxpayers. Every year these days, school levies make up a large part of what the Legislature levies in taxes.

Through the decades, we Kansans have received another lesson. We've been informed, in such a way that it must be believed, that public education is a major tool in adding jobs to the economy. In other words, if you want your state to grow, you must improve public education for the work force.

Now, I have no quarrel with anyone who wants to improve Kansas education. I'm all for it. Neither is it my goal to change the names of those who bear the greatest financial burden.

I would only point out that, if we are to do all of this, then we must not cut the number of teachers or reduce their salaries. Our children surely are valuable enough to make this unthinkable.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.