- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Manhattan Mercury, July 6

Teaching changes can be beneficial:

We hope the Kansas National Education Association is as good as its word in saying it wants to be part of solutions “that make sense for students.”

That comment came last week from KNEA spokesman Marcus Baltzell, who was referring to new state teaching license regulations that allow some individuals who have ample expertise but do not have education degrees to become secondary school teachers. Mr. Baltzell acknowledged that rural school districts sometimes have acute difficulties filling certain teaching positions, but expressed reservations about the new regulations.

“Opening classrooms to unlicensed and untrained individuals neglects and ignores aspects of the profession,” he told The Associated Press.

He has a point. Yet individuals who qualify to teach under the new regulations are unlikely to hurt students any more than individuals do who have education degrees but who are ineffective and whose jobs have been protected by tenure.

That, too, is changing. In addition to approving new licensing regulations, the Legislature’s school finance bill contained a provision stripping Kansas teachers of the job security that came with tenure.

The changes in licensing regulations are well intended. Their purpose is to encourage individuals who have professional experience and certifications especially in science, technology, engineering and math - the so-called STEM courses - to impart their knowledge to public school students. The regulations would permit applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years of related work experience in designated subjects to get Kansas teaching licenses. An industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession also would suffice as a qualification.

There is some risk, as KNEA has pointed out, and it ought not be ignored. It’s possible that some professionals who might be comfortable in a lab or another worksite won’t be able to convey their knowledge in classrooms. That would be a disservice to the students.

But the rewards are considerable. That’s true not just for students, who might get a perspective a career educator cannot provide, but for the professionals, who could experience the joy good teachers often feel in helping students grasp new concepts.

School districts that have trouble finding teachers the traditional way also stand to benefit by ensuring that their students have educational opportunities that are on a par with students in more urban districts.

The licensing changes are no panacea. Loosening the requirements could, as KNEA contends, undermine the teaching profession and education quality in Kansas.

But our sense is that the changes could strengthen the teaching profession in Kansas and make rural faculties more diverse. Certainly, given the difficulties some districts have finding teachers, it’s worth trying.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 5

State finances deserve more attention:

Kansas ended its 2014 fiscal year on June 30 with $338 million less in the bank than expected due to revenues that fell short of projections.

If you ask the candidates running for governor this year what is to blame for the shortfall and what possible remedies should be considered, they start pointing fingers.

We’d like to say it’s time to stop pointing fingers - what has happened is history - and get into a real discussion about the state of the Kansas economy and the state’s budget. Consider it said. Given that this is an election year, however, we expect fingers will be flying in all directions through the primary election in August and right up to the November general election.

That serves no purpose and is a disservice to the voters.

If the state meets its revenue projections through the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2015, it will end the year with about $25 million in the bank, based on projected expenditures. Meeting the revenue projections is not impossible, but it appears unlikely at this point.

And by November, the state and political candidates should have a good idea whether the 2015 Legislature will have to take action on a budget remedy.

Candidates should let the voters know before Election Day what they plan to do if it appears the budget is going to need some remedial action.

To date, Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff are holding firm with their projections the income tax cuts passed in 2012 and 2013 will eventually prove to be an economic stimulus and lift the state treasury to a healthy position.

Everyone hopes that will be the case, but voters might want to know what the governor and the Legislature would do if that isn’t the case.

Lawrence Democrat Paul Davis, the presumptive winner of his party’s nomination to oppose Brownback in the general election, proposes the state delay implementation of the next phase of the income tax cuts, which would allow restoration of public education funding without raising taxes on Kansans.

But if the problem is the Republican’s tax policy, how is freezing the rates going to produce enough money to solve any budget woes or hike education funding? Davis also proposes appointment of a bipartisan commission to evaluate tax law and “incentives for effectiveness.” Calling for a study isn’t really the answer voters want or need before going to the polls.

Hopefully, candidates will give voters the information they need before the election.


The Hutchinson News, July 4

Water answers:

With much fanfare on July 1, the Kansas Water Office released the much anticipated first draft of its water vision for the next 50 years. But it’s a “working document,” and there are yet more meetings scheduled to discuss the plan. Additional tweaks are likely before a final draft is adopted.

Mapping a course for water usage in the state, and most importantly the ever-shrinking Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas, over the next 50 years is a lofty goal and a hard one to achieve. As it currently stands, subject to those tweaks, the plan boils down to a target of 20 percent per-capita reduction in water consumption by 2035 while continuing to increase economic growth.

This needs to happen. Gov. Sam Brownback has made it an imperative for the state and has been one of the biggest champions of the cause. That’s a bit unlike him, being one who favors less government rather than more. It shows how important this is.

The problem started back in the 1940s and ‘50s when farmers in western Kansas started irrigating corn in the dry, arid region once referred to as the Great American Desert. It turned the region into an economic force in the state.

Although the Ogallala Aquifer is huge, pumping that much water out of it over that length of time has depleted it to the point that by 2064 about 70 percent of it will be gone, according to Brownback. He said the status quo is not an option. He’s right.

It’s not just irrigators, either. The plan calls for reduced water consumption by the entire state. Everyone needs to do his part. The plan also calls for the dredging of numerous reservoirs that have silted in over time. That will allow for storage of more much-needed water.

There will be other rounds of meetings throughout the state before the final plan is revealed in November at the Governor’s Water Conference.

Let’s hope this time something comes of the plight of the Ogallala Aquifer. It’s been talked about for decades, but nothing of substance has come from the talk.

This time, action is imperative. Time, and water, is running out.


Lawrence Journal-World, July 4

Jon Wefald, transformational leader:

Few American university presidents or chancellors have made such a positive difference in their institutions as did Jon Wefald in his 23 years as president of Kansas State University.

The Minnesota native stepped aside as KSU president in 2009, and, last month, university and Kansas Board of Regents officials announced that a new “transformational” eight-floor residence hall at the school would be named Wefald Hall.

In making this announcement, Regent Ed McKechnie said, “This is a transformational hall, which is pretty neat for a transformational guy.”

Regent Fred Logan said, “I think if you look at higher education in Kansas, Jon Wefald, it’s fair to say, was an historic figure and he was an historic president.”

Wefald arrived in Manhattan in the summer of 1986 after serving as chancellor of Minnesota’s state university system. K-State was down in most every category: enrollment, private fiscal support, faculty morale and the condition of its physical plant. The school also was close to being ousted from the Big Eight athletic conference because its football team had one of the nation’s worst win-loss records.

In the next 23 years, a huge transformation took place under Wefald’s leadership. Student enrollment grew from approximately 16,000 to more than 23,000; new buildings were added on the campus; research funding climbed from $18 million a year to nearly $134 million; private fiscal support grew from about $6 million a year to close to $100 million; faculty excellence was upgraded, student academic achievement in various national competitions topped most other public universities; and morale, enthusiasm and school spirit soared.

From being on the brink of dismissal from the Big Eight Conference, the K-State Wildcats football team became a winner, bringing home conference and post-season bowl championships.

Wefald turned the school around!

He put together a good, hard-working and talented support team and was an enthusiastic, full-time recruiter and supporter of the university. He made a point to balance his efforts to strengthen the school, making sure the physical plant, faculty, students, academic and athletic programs all were treated fairly.

Wefald served far longer than most university presidents and chancellors. Today, university leaders usually serve between five and seven years. It is a tough and demanding job.

It is entirely fitting that the new 540-student “transformational” residence hall, which is designed with a nontraditional environment, will carry the name of Wefald, a nontraditional and sometimes maverick university president who got things done.

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