Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kansans should pay it forward

January 11, 2006

My father-in-law is a great guy, one of the nicest men you'd ever want to meet. One of those give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of people.

And that's why I was surprised on Sunday when he sat at my dining room table and discussed funding for public education. We were wondering whether the 2006 Legislature would contribute additional monies to public schools. What would a Legislative Post Audit report show?

Bob, my father-in-law, said he hoped the Legislature wouldn't have to cough up more money for education.

I was shocked.

Why, on earth, would he say that.

As an 81-year-old retiree living on Social Security and investments, his resources are limited. And while Bob's financial condition is better than many, his earning capacity is limited by interest rates.

So, he's concerned about taxes.

And he doesn't want his to increase any more than they already have.

Understandable.

Couple that with his most recent natural gas bill -- a whopping $265 for a two-bedroom rancher in Lawrence -- and he's in sticker shock.

Understandable.

But here's where I worry.

If we Kansans reapply the brakes on public education funding, we only are robbing ourselves. Public education funding is an investment in the future. It's a pay-it-forward type of venture. And it's a venture that will pay great dividends.

It also is a venture in which we all could lose our shirts, if we decide not to make that investment.

Back when Bob was in school in Eudora, someone paid for him to attend classes and foster his never-ending thirst for knowledge.

Others did that for me, as I made my way through Russell public schools and then Kansas University.

And still others are doing that now for my daughter, who next year will be traipsing up and down the hills at KU.

If we don't adequately fund public education, our students will not grow up to be contributing members of society.

And then where will we be?

Who will be the newspaper editor? Who will be the bank president? Who will be the entrepreneurial restaurant owner?

We will be faced with a brain-drain only surpassed by states we don't want to be associated with.

And if we don't adequately fund public education, will the best and the brightest from other regions of the country want to move to our state? Of course not. Public schools are a huge drawing card. Good public schools are like supercharged magnets.

We need strong public education to ensure our futures.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating a blank check for public education. And I don't pretend to know exactly where the Legislature should draw the funding line. But I am convinced Kansas legislators ignored education for too long. And now we must play catch-up.

At the same time, we must ensure we're getting the most bang for our bucks. And while successful -- and lasting -- businesses must operate efficiently, so must our public schools. Taxpayers must feel confidence in this investment they're making. Or they will stop payment.

I believe we must make that investment. I believe we must make that investment for ourselves, for our children and for our children's children.

I believe we must pay it forward.

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