billion here. A billion there. Pretty soon, you're talking
real money. This quote by the famous Illinois Senator
Everett Dirksen applies to todays Kansas budget.
Our tax shortfall has grown into real money.
Since K-12 school funding consumes over half of every
state tax dollar and tertiary education is a significant
part of the remainder, it is no longer possible for education
to be held harmless from budget cuts.
are two actions that could save substantial money, one
at K-12 and another at colleges.
school consolidation has long been political suicide.
Now, only large scale school consolidation can save substantial
money. The time has come to implement some variation of
the 40 Regional School District proposal that would draw
down our 297 Unified School Districts into 40, without
any child riding the bus longer than one hour. In 1945,
Kansas had 8,000 little school districts, virtually every
attendance center was its own school board. By 1960, this
dropped to 2,600. The Kansas legislature set up our unified
school district system that gave us 303 USDs in 1963.
In the last three years, rural population declines have
made additional consolidations inevitable, and more will
soon occur but in an unplanned haphazard fashion.
shrinking schools have growing per-student costs due to
duplicate administrations and school boards, and from
undersized classes. Just as rural Kansas now has health
clinics that hub around a few hospitals, most communities
would keep their elementary schools and send secondary
students on to regional high schools. The initial construction
costs for the shift in students might be eligible for
the Obama plan infrastructure funding, pending the final
fine print on that future legislation. In the KS Legislature,
the Kansas population shift will result in a majority
of representatives from non-rural areas. Votes that currently
provide more state aid per pupil to rural schools will
college and university systems also need to trim expenditures.
The percent of Kansas high school graduates who entered
college in the mid-1980s was just over 40 percent, and
perhaps three out of four were college material. Today,
over 70 percent of graduates go to tertiary institutions,
but the number who are college material still remains
low. Thus, Kansas colleges and universities are spending
substantial money on remedial courses. With funding now
being enrollment-driven, there is pressure on universities
to retain students for credit hour production, regardless
of student performance. Admissions criteria are low, and
only apply to the six regents schools. The community colleges
are a major end-run. Also driven by enrollment at all
costs, some schools and outreach courses are hiring any
warm body to give easy As.
has come for Kansas college admissions standards to be
raised dramatically. Students with an ACT of 14 or 15
have no chance of graduating from a bona fide bachelors
program. There are some potentially good students who
score low because they come from K-12 schools without
resources or good teachers. But Kansas is in hard times
and can no longer afford to take in 20 students with low
ACTs, 19 of whom will never succeed, in order to save
the one who will. Any raise of minimum ACT must include
community colleges as well. That means the Kansas Board
of Regents will have to do more than coordinate
community colleges and technical schools.
is already working toward raising their minimum ACT by
2014. But that is way too late to address our budget shortfall
now. The ACT score for college enrollment could be raised
without significantly reducing the number of students
who get bachelor degrees. That would save substantial
money in university salaries, which is where 80% of the
academic operating budget is located.
of these actions will be popular, but this is the time
in history where it could and should be done.
Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.