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A growing worry about schools

By JANET WAUGH
I’ve always loved the start of the school year. As a child, I was thrilled by the idea that there would be new opportunities and new things to learn, and I remember seeing that same excitement in my children when they were growing up.
But this year is different. This year, I have to confess to feeling a sense of dread.
For the moment, I’m stepping away from my role as a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, and I’m writing as a mother and grandmother, a school and youth volunteer, a former local school board member, and the retired owner of a small business. I’m writing because something frightening is happening to our schools and to this state.
To explain my fear, I have to step back and talk about how I see Kansas. I’ve always believed we are a state where people care about each other. We know our neighbors, and we don’t turn our backs on them. If they need help, we pitch in. If disaster strikes us, our neighbors are at our front door with a hammer to help us rebuild or with a casserole to help us feed our family. We believe fiercely in individual achievement, but we also know none of us can make it without the support of a strong community.
Today, I fear this Kansas ideal of community is under attack. Even worse, it’s our children who are under fire. This assault is being carried out by a new group of extremists who swept into public office and are pushing the idea that we no longer can afford to work together. It’s too difficult, they say, even irresponsible, for Kansans to think of themselves as a community. Instead of helping each other, these extremists say we have to sacrifice certain people by slashing spending where we need it the most.
These extremists — and I put Gov. Sam Brownback at the top of the list — have done many things, but among their most worrying actions is their attack this year on our schools. Each community school district is dealing with the recent budget cuts in its own way. Because districts don’t have to report their actions immediately, the full impact will not be known for some time. Already, we are seeing fewer educators in classrooms, less personal attention for our children and less help for struggling students.
We’re also seeing added burdens heaped onto families. To make up for the cuts in state funding, property taxes are being increased in some school districts. Parents also are being forced to pay higher school fees, sometimes amounting to as much as hundreds of dollars more a year.
I can’t tell you what motivates the extremists. I don’t know whether they are selfish or simply misguided. But I do know that the Kansas they would create is a mean-spirited place. In this Kansas, neighbor battles neighbor, and children come last. If they ever succeed in remaking our state, I doubt that I would recognize this place as Kansas, and I wonder if anyone would want to raise a family here.
Janet Waugh, Kansas City, Kan.,
is a former Kansas State Board
of Education member from District 1.