Thursday, October 30, 2014


I’ve seen lots of charts and graphs over the past few weeks. Every one of them tends to re-enforce the education position of the “favored” candidate. This makes it very difficult to separate the chaff from the wheat.

One of the things that’s become very clear to me about education here in Kansas is that the education debate has little to do with education. It’s all about money…lots of money!

Now, there’s no doubt about it. Educating our children is critically important. We all want our children to get the very best education in the world. That’s not unreasonable, nor is it unreasonable to understand that there are costs associated with that desire. If, for example, I’m considering the purchase of an automobile, I need to decide what I would like and then find out what it will cost. I may want a B.M.W., but budget constraints might mean I’ll have to settle for a KIA Soul instead. It’s not that the KIA is a bad automobile (Nancy and I drove one to California and back. It’s a nice car), but it’s not a B.M.W.

When it comes to education funding, I think the same principle applies. It’s all a matter of inputs and expected outputs. If I put of lot of money into education, I think it’s fair for me to expect a lot at the output at the end of the equation. And, that’s where this Conservative has a problem. I’m not getting what I’m paying for. I’m throwing a lot of money at education and so are a lot of other Kansans, but, I’m not getting a reasonable return on investment. In test after test these days, when American students are compared with their international counterparts, our kids are slipping in the rankings. All too often, we’re finding ourselves in the lower tier.

The sad truth about education in America is that we’re paying for a B.M.W., but we’re getting a Yugo or one of those old Soviet era Ladas instead.

That’s not a healthy situation! The tragic old adage is being played out right before our eyes – “Johnny can’t read, Johnny can’t write, Johnny thinks the American Revolution started when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”

Nancy and I have hosted international students for almost as long as we’ve lived here. One of them, Corina Nour, came to us from the Republic of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. When it came to funding for her high school education, the poverty of Moldova meant they could only spend pennies on education compared to our dollars. Yet, Corina excelled from the moment she got here. Her grasp of English was better than the average American student, as was her grasp of science, mathematics, or American history. We’ve had friends tell us she was the exception. We’ve never believed that, nor has Corina. Part of the equation of her success was certainly her, but another part of the equation was the quality of education that she got in Moldova. And, it had very little to do with huge sums of money.

A few years ago I started getting anonymous letters from people within the belly of the beast. They usually read something like, “Phil, you really need to look at what’s going on in state education.” I didn’t want to get involved. But, the anonymous e-mails kept on coming. Then, someone left a large packet at my door with a note attached. “Please, Phil, look at this and speak out.”

I decided to open the packet, which turned out to be a study done on every school district in Kansas. A group of blue ribbon citizens had been commissioned by the education bureaucracy to look at each district and determine what budget cuts needed to be made. I went over the report with a fine-tooth comb. It took me a full week to give it due diligence. When all was said and done, it was clear that the recommendations didn’t have our kids in mind. The recommendations hit classrooms like a ton of bricks. Administration? Staff? Analysts? They were barely touched.

It made me wonder. Was the blue ribbon panel suffering from an anti-classroom fetish? Or, had someone convinced them ahead of time to produce the “desired” results?

According to the Kansas Department of Education, student enrollment has increased by 6% between 1993 and 2013. Over that same period of time, administration and other staff have grown by 40%.

Our education bureaucracy has become a lumbering giant, due in large part to the onerous reporting requirements being dumped on it by elements of an even more massive bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.

And, the candidates who are clamoring for more money to throw at the problem have the gall to tell us it’s all for the kids.

I’ll close with this. Before you pull that lever on November 4th, you need to ask a question. Are you tired of paying for B.M.W’s and getting Yugos and Ladas instead? If you are, you’ll know which way to vote.

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