Partisan spite denies children education

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December 8, 2012 by Nash Riggins

Sam Brownback is preventing children from learning effectively because he takes issue with educational semantics.

Earlier this week, the Kansas Governor blatantly refused to help Topeka’s school districts secure a $40 million, three-year federal education grant. The grant would have sought to raise student achievement, narrow the achievement gap and improve the effectiveness of teachers. Why then, did the Governor reject this proposal? Because it could “lead to more federal government interference in education”.

While Kansas legislators were left scrambling to reassure teachers that the Governor does indeed support all of the goals as outlined within the grant, they rationalised that it depends too heavily upon the federal government, and its encouragement of utilising Common Core standards marginalised its effectiveness.

What are Common Core standards? In essence, Common Core standards are a model for teaching and learning math and reading geared at better preparing students for college or careers. At present, 46 states – including the state of Kansas – have adopted this system, and have thus implemented these methods in the classroom. Teachers have apparently already witnessed a difference in the way that children are learning, and describe this methodology as more rigorous and more focused on one’s depth of knowledge rather than breadth.

If teachers can attest to the method’s effectiveness, why would Sam Brownback disallow schools to apply for a federal grant in order to implement said standards further? The money wouldn’t be coming from his pocket-book; therefore, the only rational conclusion is that Mr Brownback simply doesn’t want any help from Barack Obama with his education department. Senator Pat Roberts reiterated this token small-government stance on Wednesday, when he asserted that ‘federal agendas’ had no place in Kansas schools.

“I do not believe the federal government should be mandating a one-size-fits-all education reform agenda by proposing a financial reward system in order to force states to make changes deemed worthwhile by the administration,” he said. Apparently he hasn’t spoken to the teachers or students in his home-town that also deem Common Core standards “worthwhile” – but that’s neither here nor there.

Overlooking the fact that Senator Roberts voted in favour of 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act – the shining example of what happens when the federal government mandates “a one-size-fits-all education reform agenda” – it’s fair to say that Kansas’ top legislators are refusing to allocate funding to educate children based solely out of bipartisan spite. That being said, it seems like Kansas schools need all the help they can get.

Last year, the state of Kansas spent $2,973,229,106 on its K-12 education. This was considered a blatant budgetary success, which was due largely in part to major budget cuts that were implemented at the start of said fiscal year. Governor Brownback was able to cut funding for the Kansas Arts Commission by $300,000, state funding for the School for the Blind by $211,799 and the state School for the Deaf by $313,905. In all, the Kansas Department of Education faced cuts of $32.75 million that year – all from the State General Fund.

Trivially enough, one of the few educational departments that was able to secure a budget increase last year was the Kansas Board of Regents, to which the Governor approved a $40.0 million increase. How? By way of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a federal education programme. Hypocrisy is a complete understatement.

In fact, in 2011 the federal government was largely responsible for allocating the state of Kansas $728,106,414 in order to do as Mr Brownback and his Department of Education saw fit. Federal caveats placed upon said grants were limited solely to requests that the money would be broadly spent by way of implementing generally accepted teaching methods – for example, the nationally recognised Common Core standards.

Common Core standards are recognised by the majority of the country as a successful way in which to effectively teach children – and unfortunately, that may be exactly why Governor Brownback doesn’t want it being used in his state. Just earlier this year, he sent back $31 million in federal funding that was meant to help Kansas citizens purchase health insurance, because he considered it “an overreach by Washington”.

Perhaps spite has indeed fueled Mr Brownback’s hypocritical stance on federal funding, taking it only when it suits his own policy agenda – or perhaps he merely likes to keep the people of Kansas guessing. Either way, Mr Brownback will undeniably sleep soundly knowing that his rejection of Topeka schools’ bid to receive a federal grant has prevented teachers from helping to improve early learning and pre-kindergarten education.

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