Confronting the Brutal Facts
by KNEA President Blake West
Jim Collins’ well-known book Good to Great explained characteristics of companies that far exceeded their competition for decades at a time.
Key among those principles was that top organizations looked at themselves critically, analyzed data and when difficulties arose, they didn’t make excuses or explain away their findings.
They confronted “the brutal facts.”
The 2010 Kansas legislative session was a window into just such a time of self-reflection. Thanks in large part to the groundswell of data – testimonials from thousands of KNEA members telling of the impact that budget cuts were having on opportunities for kids – a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who share a basic support for public education took action.
The KNEA “listening tour” visits to schools in every corner of the state combined with e-mails and letters from members provided the impetus for legislation that no policy pundit would have predicted. The legislature passed a tax increase.
For those of us who spend our days up close and personal with the brutal facts of budget cuts in schools, this action was a sensible call.
But keep in mind three things that highlight the significance of this coalition’s actions:
1) Policy-makers are generally NOT in schools to see the cuts and understand the programs and people that are impacted.
2) Sharing our stories is not something that teachers typically do. We’re passionate about our work, pained by the harm done by cuts, but teachers usually don’t like to get involved in “politics” or to complain … even if their concerns are for the well-being of their students.
3) And the most stunning realization is that big money individuals and corporations generally opposed to any taxes strongly fought this action.
They set their lobbying machine in motion through the statewide Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a statewide ad campaign intent on derailing funding.
A few brutal facts …
Cuts to school funding a year ago caused districts to expend all their reserves and begin reducing staff.
Flat funding in the coming year will still result in more personnel and program reductions in many schools. Educational opportunities for kids attending school at this time in history are markedly diminished compared to what students a few years ago experienced.
Job cuts to educators have just as big a negative impact on local economies as job cuts in any other sector. In fact, job cuts that diminish the quality of schools have even longer term negative impacts on the economic opportunities for individual students. Job cuts that diminish the quality of schools make our communities less desirable for businesses and families.
Brutal facts and a lesson from history
Back when Governor Sebelius was relatively new in office, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats worked, over the objection of some party leaders, to try and enact increased public school funding. The same policy-makers and lobbying machine that fought school funding in 2010 ALSO targeted that coalition back in 2004 … and defeated several key friends of public education.
Far too many KNEA members and educators failed to respond to the alarm when champions for public education were under attack.
Educators may be timid about entering the political fray, and a high price was paid by the legislators who put their careers on the line for public schools.
Brutal facts: A call to action this summer!
Not one of us should allow the summer of 2010 to pass without taking personal and public action on TWO important fronts:
First, we MUST be a force in the August primary elections. Policy-makers who put their reputation on the line for public education need us to work in their campaigns, tell friends and neighbors to support them, and get out the vote on primary election day.
KNEA members across Kansas will interview virtually every candidate and we’ll send mailers to you to let you know which candidates measure up on education issues. Vote for these people, encourage your friends to do likewise.
Second, talks are underway in Washington, D.C. to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NEA is deeply involved with trying to “fix” ESEA. It will require members – educators all across Kansas – to respond when we send out a call to action, contact members of Congress, and let them know how to fix this law so that it serves the best interests of our students.
Keep the brutal facts in mind
A sales tax was necessary for the short term to maintain crucial services in Kansas. But in the long term, we need to overhaul the Kansas tax system. KNEA has the research and expertise to help policy-makers fix the system.
But those who fought against school funding in 2010 stand ready to spend huge amounts on campaigns for anti-school-funding candidates.
If they succeed in ousting friends of public education, school funding, state revenue and the future of our children are in grave danger.
The opposition may be few in number, but they have lots to spend on the elections. We cannot match their billions.But they cannot match 25,000 KNEA members with a vision for great public schools and the well-being of our students in our hearts.
We must be ready for action, ready to take the lead in supporting candidates who will support our schools. Make sure you and everyone you know is part of that team in the summer of 2010.
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