Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court told the Legislature it was violating the state constitution by not adequately funding poor schools. Lawmakers added more money to the education budget... but they wanted something in return. Guest Commentator Tony Moss says they put into the law two very bad ideas.
Guest Commentator Tony Moss is a former school social worker. He's currently a researcher and data analyst for the Kansas Department of Education, but he spoke to us today as a private citizen, not as a representative of the education department.
The first is to weed and feed. Weed teachers out by letting principals fire them without explanation. Feed them in by inviting technicians to become teachers – without being trained AS teachers.
Folks, the U.S. graduates 50,000 more teachers every year than it needs. Remember supply and demand, how a flooded market leads to falling prices? In the professions, oversupply means lower pay, lower quality and higher turnover. It won’t matter how fast principals weed out teachers. At the same low pay level, principals will have to replace the fired teachers with similar teachers, or now, with technicians who are not certified to teach.
This is the opposite of countries beating American students on international tests. In Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, they match the supply of teachers to demand. Finland pays their college expenses through the master’s level. They train them like we train doctors and pay them like engineers. ONLY the smartest and most socially-skilled compete to become teachers.
The second really bad idea in the school finance law is to trade, behind the scenes, the right to make education policy to the biggest campaign donors. Lawmakers added a corporate tax break to the school funding bill. It gives corporations up to $10 million in tax deductions for giving scholarship money TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS - and only private schools. It's like transferring $10 million from PUBLIC coffers to campaign donors and PRIVATE schools, and it's money the rest of us will have to make up.
If our legislators really wanted to improve education, good ideas are available.
First, they should fund high-quality early childcare. Early childhood is a great opportunity — it’s THE MOST SENSITIVE time for developing language and the golden rule. High-quality care can raise children’s IQs and put them on a trajectory to learn more, earn more and live healthier. For every public dollar invested in high-quality early care, the public gets $8 or more in return. We get high-earning tax-paying citizens and better neighbors.
A second great policy idea is to make Kansas teachers the most carefully-selected and best-trained in the country. By paying for scholarships, we could require our best teachers to work in the same schools for at least six years. With great day care and great schools, more communities would thrive. Drop-outs would decline. Crime would go down. But tax revenues and the quality of life, and even the quality of legislators, would gradually go up.
So Kansans have a few choices.
We can keep cutting education budgets and keep attacking teachers until we really do have the worst schools and worst teachers in the country.
OR we can start investing in our people, in our teachers and our children, and stop giving away the farm to the corporations that finance campaigns.