The most basic workflow for problem-solving goes something along these lines: Identify the problem, analyze the situation, consider potential solutions, take action and evaluate.
Elementary logic doesn’t appear to have guided those in Topeka when it comes to funding K-12 public education in Kansas. Elected leaders rearranged the order, skipped some of it, even redefined fundamental steps in the process to move the state to the current snafu.
The Brownback administration and a compliant Legislature wrote their own manual that instructs: Create the problem (reduce revenue through massive income tax cuts), and take action (reduce funding to schools and throw out the finance formula for good measure).
That’s it. Short, sweet, devoid of analysis or meaningful debate — and let the chips fall where they may.
Last week, though, we were surprised to hear there was another step to the process. The K-12 Student Success Interim Study Committee, which will be comprised of 15 legislators, was formed to examine five different areas: the capacities students are taught, ensuring adequate tax dollars make it to the classroom, defining a “suitable” education, outcomes to ensure students are prepared for the future, and common accounting practices. Legislative leaders believe such weighty matters critical enough they scheduled three days of meetings.
We believe the subjects should be something all lawmakers are familiar with. It would have made much more sense as Step 2 in a traditional problem-solving model — analyzing the situation — if the problem actually had been identified as “Kansas has poor education outcomes.”
But that wasn’t the problem, was it? Kansas students consistently have scored in the upper echelons in national comparisons, and Kansas educators have overcome even unconstitutionally low funding levels to get there.
Which makes us suspicious about the true intent of this latest panel. The problems that have been created is inadequate and inequitable funding, an assault on the integrity of teachers and administrators, and questionable commitment to a retirement system for all state employees.
What will the Student Success Committee be examining?
As House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, wrote in the adopted proposal: “The objective of the K-12 Student Success Interim Study Committee is to generate discussion, input and research to further child-centric education that makes the students, not institutions, the top priority.”
Two of the five subject areas should be settled already amongst the current crop of legislators as they wrote the Rose Standards into law in 2014. Rose addressed both the capacities and outcomes for tomorrow’s classroom.
Uniform accounting practices have absolutely nothing to do with prioritizing students, so the only identified areas left are the definition of a suitable education and ensuring tax dollars make their way to the classroom. Future rulings from the Kansas Supreme Court will decide both of these as lawsuits are addressing where legislators repeatedly have fallen short.
We’re guessing this panel will introduce new problems under the guise of “solutions” as a voucher system finally hits Kansas full-force. That one is no secret. The new wrinkle likely will be scoring districts based on post-graduation performance of students. That would be the “success” part of the panel’s title.
We remain underwhelmed by Topeka’s attempts to “fix” public education. When fundamental problem-solving techniques are ignored or distorted, the end result only can be confirmation of a predetermined outcome. Both the governor and legislative majority have proven themselves untrustworthy in their worldview.
This new committee needs to be scrutinized every step of the way.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry