Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Education forum touts need for strong schools

October 20, 2005

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

There was no chanting of spells, but State Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said she felt like one of the witches in Shakespeare's play "MacBeth" at a community education forum Monday at Lansing Community Center.

Ruff explained that attending the meeting was like "stirring the pot of concern" about issues surrounding public education.

The forum, titled "Stronger Schools, Stronger Communities, was put on by four education groups: Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas National Education Association, Kansas Families United for Public Education and United School Administrators of Kansas.

Speakers touched on topics including the importance of investing in education, threats to public education in Kansas and what can be done to protect public education.

"Our goal here, in some ways, is to help educate educators," said Mark Tallman, assistant executive director of advocacy for KASB. He and other speakers urged attendees to take the information from the presentation and share it with others.

Tallman spoke about Kansas' strategic choices for the future of its education and economy. These days, he said, dropping out of school is like economic suicide; poverty is increasingly linked to a lack of education. For Kansas' economy, Tallman said, the state has two choices: to be the cheapest, offering the lowest taxes, services and wages; or to be the smartest by investing in education to provide the highest skills and wages. Over time, he said, investing in education can pay off for the state because most of the money going into the education system for wages, goods and services is spent in Kansas.

Tallman also touched on the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling this summer that funding for Kansas schools was unconstitutional because of unacceptable differences in student achievement, the Legislature's failure to fund known costs and not basing funding on a commissioned study and the lack of funding forcing districts to use their local option budgets for basic costs. Local option budgets are raised through local property taxes and are intended to provide money for district enhancements.

Terry Forsyth of the KNEA told the audience about threats to public education, such as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which some groups have been promoting in Kansas. The proposal would require voters to approve tax increases. Education proponents worry that voters would refuse to approve more taxes for education spending.

Ruff also interjected that the Kansas Legislature might become an obstacle to schools with a post-audit study the body is getting to look at the costs of education. Ruff indicated that the results would probably be "a confusing, if not downright deliberate attempt" to reduce school funding. However, she said she expected the court would force the Legislature to accept a "higher ball" study.

Missy Taylor, a former teacher who is now a board member of Kansas Families United for Public Education said those attending the meeting could help to disseminate the message through schools and other groups.

Lansing school board vice president Shelly Gowdy said she wished more people would have attended the meeting, but she said she would do her part to spread the information she received there. She said she considered the facts and figures presented at the meeting to be reliable.

"When (KASB) brings numbers to the table, I feel very comfortable and confident in repeating those numbers to people," Gowdy said. "They do a lot of research before they publish anything."

Jan Jorgensen, Lansing Intermediate School principal, said that she found the forum interesting and that she intended to share the information she learned with her school's site council members and Lansing Parent-Teacher Association.

Jorgensen said she needed to look further into TABOR and its possible effects.

"I don't want my taxes to go up either, but I would hate to see the quality of education decline," she said.

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