Educating kids is No. 1 priority

Here’s something for USD 257 board members to keep in mind when they agonize over flagging state aid as Kansas legislators deal with revenue shortfalls.
(Tuesday evening they took a major step to deal with budget problems when they decided to close LaHarpe Elementary School at the end of the semester, voted not to renew contracts of two teachers and reassigned two other teachers. See page 1.)
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that kids in the U.S. were improving in reading and math, with low-achieving students making the biggest gains.
The 2008 scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test considered the benchmark of how students perform when measured against long-term trends.
Results were particularly noticeable on reading. Reading scores tend to lag behind math scores, but in 2008 students in every age group — 9, 13 and 17 — made gains. That hasn’t happened since 1975.
In math, scores im-proved for younger children, but scores for 17-year-olds remained flat.
Local scores generally have exceeded those nationally and with tutoring and summer programs in place or about to be in USD 257, greater strides can be expected. That’s why board members should resist any temptation to tinker with education-specific programming to save money.
Peripheral cuts likely can be made without having any great effect, but those that would affect how education is delivered each day would exact a heavy toll on the learning process.
Board members should eliminate from any consideration reducing the school week to four days; they should keep teach-er-pupil numbers in the lower grades as compatible as possible; and they should avoid whittling programs designed to help students who have had difficulties in the classroom.
The state for decades has recognized that its primary role is to provide the best possible education for the state’s children, to the tune of 52 percent of its current general fund budget. And, if legislators don’t have the resolve to keep the state’s budget in the black through means other than cutting aid to education — perhaps by doing something as revolutionary as raising taxes — then local boards of education must step into the breach and deal positively with the tough decisions passed along to them.
Nothing is more important than our children’s educations. Let’s act like it.

— Bob Johnson