Essays from the Heartland - My world and times viewed through the prism of the Kansas Flint Hills
Thursday, October 30, 2014
YUGOS AND LADAS
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
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
And, the candidates who are clamoring
for more money to throw at the problem have the gall to tell us it’s all for
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.