Two weeks ago, while the Kansas Legislature was working on budget and tax issues, Larry Landwehr, president of United Teachers of Wichita, the union for Wichita public school teachers, addressed the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district.
Landwehr referred to “difficult decisions” the board had to make in the past few months, presumably due to budget cuts the district believed it needed to make. His remarks were based on a false premise, however. Many of these cuts were not necessary, as school districts have money to spend, if they want.
During the present school year, according to figures released at the end of April, schools in Kansas were able to increase spending by an estimated $320 million. This was in spite of the fact that revenue to Kansas school districts declined by about $50 million. $370 million in fund balances were used to boost total spending by $320 million.
These are the fund balances that school districts and school officials have said cannot be used. But districts have used them, and there’s more that can be used. There is no need to make cuts to teachers and programs.
In his remarks, Landwehr also issued a threat to legislators who “chose re-election over providing a quality education for our students.” He added “I hope they [voters] respond accordingly in the summer and spring elections.”
There’s a few issues here that deserve discussion. First, while the teachers union may believe that public schools in Kansas are producing a quality product, the rest of us need to dismiss this illusion. While Kansas reports rising test scores on state-administered assessments, these test scores are certainly fraudulent, as scores on tests the state does not control do not match this trend.
Furthermore, only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers.
This is not a record of achievement that Wichita and Kansas school districts and teachers unions should be proud of.
There’s also the issue as to whether Wichita school board meetings should be used for political campaigning. While Wichita public schools hate to be called “government schools,” the fact that this behavior is permitted at school board meetings show us that public schools are, in fact, creations of, and expressions of, government.