- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Hutchinson News, Feb. 22

Kansas version of ‘Common Core’ deserves opportunity to be tried, tested:

Local control. What that means depends on your perspective.

Putting aside all the politics and rhetoric about the so-called “Common Core” reading and math education standards, lawmakers in Topeka ought to give local school districts in Kansas the opportunity to see what they can do with this new approach. Because for the same reason they don’t like the notion of Washington telling the states how to teach their kids, local educators are none too happy about the politicians in Topeka telling them to abandon all the work they’ve done to shift to Common Core, which in the opinion of most is a more rigorous and innovative way of teaching.

In Kansas, it’s actually called the “College and Career Ready Standards.” And maybe if we started referring to it as that, we could get past the politics, because too many politicians have been fed the company line on Common Core, accepting it without even really examining the standards with their own critical eye. “Common Core,” so the conspiracy theory goes, is a vast, federal government left-wing plot to take over public education and somehow indoctrinate our school kids.

The reality is that Washington had little to do with the development of Common Core. It was something the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers developed and is not mandated by the federal government. Kansas adapted it and is now nearly four years into its implementation with most educators saying they like the new critical-thinking and holistic approach to teaching core concepts and the opportunity to break from “No Child Left Behind,” which had left behind little more than a bad taste in most educators’ mouths.

Yet Kansas legislators persist in their efforts to undo it. The House Education Committee this week heard testimony on a bill that would repeal the new standards.

Besides the hypocrisy on the local control argument, conservative legislators have become unlikely opponents of Common Core because they often are the ones most demanding higher standards for better performance from our public schools.

The legislators crying out for local control need to stop and listen to the teachers on the front lines. While the saboteurs say Common Core standards dictate what should be taught, Wichita elementary school teacher Cathy Granell told Wichita public radio that, for her, the new standards actually offer greater freedom.

“Before it was, here’s your skill that they need to master and it was, just do this, do that. And you were successful if they could do it, if they could follow those steps,” she said. “Now it’s a completely different way of thinking. I feel like I’m doing less thinking for them. I stop and I have to make myself be quiet and make them think, ‘What would you do now?’”

Andover language arts teacher Dyane Smokorowski told the Education Committee last week that Kansas teachers “are moving in the right direction.

“Denying us this progression only reduces the possibilities for dynamic classroom experiences.”

It is OK, even good, that legislators question what is being taught in the public schools of our state. However, how about we all relax, understand that Common Core isn’t federally mandated and see what our local educators - not to mention the State Board of Education, which has jurisdiction when it comes to curriculum - do with Common Core?

Like any new standards, they deserve a chance. Yanking our public school teachers around from one set of standards to another most certainly is not good for education. Let’s let them decide whether Common Core is too restrictive and top-down. And let’s have this debate in, say, five years hence when we have some track record on educational outcomes to determine whether or not Common Core is effective.


The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 21

Election fix unwanted, uncertain:

State legislators aren’t alone in disliking the abysmally low turnout in municipal and school board elections. But the proposed remedies look like more Statehouse meddling likely to create new problems.

Senate Bill 211 would move the elections from the spring in odd-numbered years to August (primary) and November (general) in even-numbered years. Participation would skyrocket, as City Council and school board seats shared ballots with national, state and county races. But local contests and issues would suffer by having so much competition for voter and media attention.

It also would be confusing to mix in the nonpartisan municipal and school board races with the partisan contests. While the bill originally politicized as well as moved the local races, a Senate committee wisely amended the language Wednesday to keep them nonpartisan. Then it inexplicably contradicted that move by approving an amendment by Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, to empower local political parties to fill midterm vacancies. In the case of O’Donnell’s own 2012 exit from the Wichita City Council, for example, the local GOP would have chosen a successor; now, the governing body picks replacements. Another amendment would tell 60 school districts to change how they elect boards; locals also have concerns about beginning board members’ terms in January rather than July.

The Senate committee has yet to pass the bill. A separate measure, House Bill 2227, would keep the elections nonpartisan but hold them in the fall in odd-numbered years, which at least would accord them the full spotlight. The League of Kansas Municipalities opposes both bills.

Wanting to bring more attention and voters to local races is a worthy goal, but the Legislature shouldn’t impose an unwanted and uncertain fix on locals.


The Garden City Telegram, Feb. 19

Power surge:

Tea Party Republicans have set their sights on state renewable energy standards in Kansas and beyond.

Their goal is to convince states to either block new renewable energy standards, or repeal those in place.

Among those targeted would be a deal from 2009 in Kansas that came about amid political wrangling over expansion of the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. plant at Holcomb.

Then-Gov. Mark Parkinson helped broker a sensible deal to allow a scaled-down Sunflower facility expansion along with initiatives to power wind and other renewable energy. The agreement called for utilities to draw 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2011, 15 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.

But Wichita-based energy and manufacturing giant Koch Industries, through Americans for Prosperity (a major Tea Party force), has been angling to erase the standards, claiming such mandates lead to costly subsidies, overregulation and higher energy prices.

Americans for Prosperity’s laughable television ads even try to link renewable energy standards in Kansas to Obamacare.

Interestingly, the Kochs claim to wage war on so-called corporate welfare, yet a look at their own record shows the company has reaped the benefit of taxpayer subsidies involving energy production, among other government-related deals.

Now, they’re hoping lawmakers sympathetic to their cause abolish Kansas’ renewable energy standards - a damaging proposition in places such as southwest Kansas, where the positive economic impact of expanded ethanol and wind energy production is evident.

Ethanol plants have popped up throughout the region, bringing jobs and a boost to corn and sorghum growers. When farmers prosper, their good fortune resonates on Main Street, as well.

Wind, too, has become key in the state’s economic development and energy portfolio.

Even Gov. Sam Brownback, who is guided by Americans for Prosperity-Koch input and support, backed extension of federal wind-energy tax credits needed to keep wind farm development on track.

Repealing Kansas’ renewable energy standards, as the Kochs desire, would hurt. Lawmakers in a state that’s benefiting from a growing mix of energy sources should be eager to keep the nonsensical Tea Party pitch from undoing an economic success story in Kansas.


The Hays Daily News, Feb. 19

Spanking children

It is difficult for Democratic lawmakers in Topeka to make headlines. Most legislation proposed by the minority party simply is ignored, both in the Statehouse and outside.

The internal nature of the situation basically is a numbers game. With only eight members in the Senate and 33 in the House — and barely any moderate Republicans left to partner with, the odds are stacked against Democratic proposals receiving a hearing, let alone make it out of committee, through both houses and on to the governor’s desk.

The second variable quieting this faction is the extreme nature of the other. Having an overabundance of ultraconservatives allows a multitude of extreme positions to dominate all conversations. Whether it’s legalized discrimination of gay people, threatening the federal government with arrest if attempting to do its job in Kansas, ignoring the state Supreme Court’s ruling on school funding, making voting more difficult than necessary, or cutting off benefits to the needy, it is not difficult for pundits to find worthwhile material.

But it’s generally the Republican Party making the news.

One Wichita Democrat seems determined to change the dynamic. Rep. Gail Finney wants to give parents, teachers and caregivers the legal right to spank children harder.

Just so there is no room for misinterpretation, here is the language proposed in House Bill 2699: ” ‘Corporal punishment’ means up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result. As used in this subsection ‘child’ includes a person over the age of 18 who is enrolled in high school.”

This is what is the matter with Kansas? We don’t beat our children enough?

Finney, who is single and childless, said she’s merely attempting to restore parental rights and improve discipline.

“What’s happening is there are some children that are very defiant and they’re not minding their parents, they’re not minding school personnel,” Finney said Tuesday.

Hitting them even harder hardly seems like the appropriate response. More parenting should be the answer, not more hitting.

Kansas law defines battery as “knowingly or recklessly causing bodily harm to another person; or knowingly causing physical contact with another person when done in a rude, insulting or angry manner.” That definition, ironically, exists in the very statute Finney hopes to amend.

Perhaps there is a bigger picture that needs to be considered. Another piece of legislation, HB 2450, calls for changing all state statutes that refer to the “best interest of the child.” Instead, the preferred term would be “least detrimental alternative.”

The proposed spanking bill so shocks us we only can imagine what comes next. More leniency for spousal abuse? Improved disciplinary measures at the discretion of employers? Shaming in the public square?

There is no excuse for the obscene HB 2699, unless Finney saw it as the only way for a Democrat to get press coverage in the current Statehouse environment. If that’s the case, congratulations.

Now, withdraw the bill and return to your room. A timeout is needed; not a spanking.

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