On Saturday February 12, 2005 I attended a meeting of the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation. Lynn Rogers, then the USD 259 (the Wichita public school district) school board president, and Connie Dietz, then vice-president of the same body, attended. There had been a proposal to spend an additional $415 million over the next three years on schools. Asked if this would be enough to meet their needs, the Wichita school board members replied, “No.”
At least Mr. Rogers was not lying. More spending than that was approved, and true to his word, the Wichita Board of Education found it necessary this week to raise taxes so the public schools could have even more money.
I can’t speak for Mr. Rogers, but I imagine that this tax increase is viewed as only a temporary stop-gap measure until some more substantial funding can be obtained.
By the way, do you know that the Wichita Public School System has a marketing department? I wonder why an organization that requires customers to consume its product through compulsory attendance laws, that has the ability to raise funds through the coercive force of the state, and that has a government-mandated monopoly on the use of public education funds needs such a department. Then someone told me that’s where the school system’s lobbyists are. (I haven’t been able to verify that.) Now it made sense to me. The audience the school system is marketing to: the legislature and the governor.
And what do we get for all this? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one-third of Kansas eighth-graders (Wichita figures are not separately available) are considered “proficient” in mathematics, reading, and writing. (The State of Kansas, as do most states, reports much higher proficiency rates on its own tests, but these tests are subject to local pressure to show good results.)
Not much, it seems.
School choice initiatives are springing up all over the country except in Kansas, where the education bureaucracy remains entrenched, aided by one business that should have a vested interested in well-educated potential customers. Earlier this year Wichita Eagle editorialist Rhonda Holman poked fun at some school board candidates because they were interested in charter schools and vouchers. If things proceed as they have, in another generation few Kansas high schools graduates will be able to read Ms. Holman’s editorials.
Does that sound far-fetched? Consider a recent study by the American Institutes for Research, which found that “over half the graduates of four-year colleges and three-quarters of the graduates of junior and community colleges could not be categorized as possessing these ‘proficient’ skills.” At what skills are they not proficient? Understanding newspaper editorials was one such skill.
Local school districts claim they want to be held accountable, but they strenuously resist the one way that provides true accountability. That way is the market, where people vote with their dollars and the future welfare of their children.
True accountability can be achieved in only one way: let the government of the State of Kansas relinquish its monopoly on the financing and production of schooling — the very type of monopoly power that, if wielded by private enterprise, would be condemned as unjust and immoral.