This morning I picked up the paper and read of another education proposal which, regardless of intent, seeks to damage public education and tinker with a policy which diverts state moneys to private schools. It also guts the school finance fix agreed upon only last year. It represents a continuation of the struggle that has existed in Kansas for at least forty years. Yet again, it is a conservative effort to poke a finger in eye of the Kansas Supreme Court which would have the effect of continuing the court battles which have been ongoing since the 80’s.

The state of Kansas is on the verge of ending the ongoing battle with the courts. The remedy passed last year was approved by the court except for the need to add an inflation factor. The Governor has proposed that fix which presumably would let the Attorney General find dismissal of the case by the Kansas Supreme Court. The new bill stands that potential on its head. Some in the legislature obviously find it politically useful to continue the turmoil created by the continuous litigation.

The bill also steps into other favorite conservative themes by attempting to micromanage the use of the money. It curries favor from those concerned about bullying by creating a timely process for allowing the transfer of children to private schools utilizing public money. Two birds with one stone, I guess. The measure seeks to direct money to mental health programs and to under-achieving students. It creates a time limit for an immigrant child to learn English. Regardless of worthiness or intent, it provides a direct slap at the state Board of Education and the professionals managing our schools with the implication that they are unable to create appropriate priorities and responsibly allocate the funds they are given.

From my experience in the legislature, during a time when school finance was addressed and policy encouraging accountability was created, I would hesitate to turn instruction detail policy over to 165 legislators who hold widely different views and who are directly affected by the political winds which blow so erratically. Better to leave the instruction of kids to those who are not looking forward to the next election. Better to avoid the grinding of axes.

Kansas has to be regarded as a most interesting state. We seem to love our schools. We will fight to the death to keep our local schoolhouse and avoid consolidation with another district. We pass a significant portion of our bond issues to build facilities and provide suitable equipment. We take pride in our educational achievement from preschool to the university. We consider our state to be filled with literate people who have, at times in our history, led the nation in innovation and good government practice.

Yet we continue to elect many to represent us who are openly hostile to public education and constantly seek to degrade and limit those who serve in our public schools. This latest legislative effort is a perfect example. And it seems to be supported by leadership. It seems to be a continuation of the constant effort to support measures which damage public education. And it will be supported by many in our state as an ideological issue who, in the real world, are supportive of their local school system. And, of course, it will be supported by many older folks, perhaps near my age, who can’t understand why schools can’t function as they did in “our day,” or who consider the most important job of their legislator is to reduce spending without regard to the issue or the result.

The current sleep-walking legislature has yet to provide much clarity as to where the majority power truly rests. For most of our history, those who would degrade public education have not held the majority. Both parties have members who are supportive of public education and who have been able to join together and protect the state’s schoolhouses. Whether that coalition of “D’s” and “R’s” who support public education can prevail has yet to be determined. Unfortunately, a tiny sliver of voters in my own district seems to have removed us from that coalition although campaign rhetoric and voting can sometimes vary. Time will tell.

Those of us who are supportive of public education can only wait to see what finally transpires in Topeka. Some apparently feel this latest legislative effort involving education will not survive. Obviously, anything can be introduced and one shouldn’t overact. But one does wonder why ending the legislature/court struggle isn’t a worthwhile objective. One wonders why flogging that issue for political purposes is so attractive. And one wonders why, on election day, so many of us keep buying what those folks are selling even as it violates our own interest.

Jack Wempe grew up in the Hutchinson area and is a former educator, state legislator and member of the Kansas Board of Regents now living in Lyons. Email: jwempe1@yahoo.com.