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Recent Kansas Editorials

December 16, 2019 GMT

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 15

What to make of a legislative audit suggesting that money directed toward at-risk students wasn’t actually being spent on programs to directly benefit them?

The news came this week, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “The Legislature’s auditing division reported a new state law requiring at-risk money be spent on evidence-based practices was poorly supervised at the state level and inadequately implemented by school districts. Auditors discovered while closely evaluating 20 districts that most at-risk expenditures were dedicated to hiring teachers without assurance benefits flowed to struggling students or relied upon evidence-based strategies.”

Yes, on first hearing it sounds terrible. But on closer examination, it might be precisely what’s needed. We frankly need to know more and follow the complicated issue closely over upcoming sessions.

At issue is how best to serve at-risk students. There are programs that specifically target them, but all of the Legislature’s targeted spending isn’t going to those programs, and the state Department of Education has said that’s acceptable.

As pointed out by Brad Neueswander, the department’s deputy commissioner for learning, “At-risk students are general education students that receive most of their at-risk supports in a general education classroom setting.”

After years of disinvestment in public schools by the Legislature, Kansas schools are in rebuilding mode. They are making sorely needed hires and creating the infrastructure needed to educate the next generation of state leaders. It makes sense to spend the money where it’s needed, and that will vary by district.

But at the same time, legislators had a clear vision of their intent with this funding. It was noted by the Kansas Supreme Court in deciding that the recent school funding plan was constitutional. And while some in Topeka may never see expanded funding for schools as a positive, appearing to blithely disregard their guidance could also have consequences.

As Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, noted: I believe this is a trust issue. I don’t know now that additional funding we’ve given over the years is being appropriated in the way the Legislature has intended.”

The audit frankly raises more questions than answers. We hope that the state Department of Education and legislators speak to one another more frequently and freely about how this targeted aid for at-risk students is distributed, and that they reach an understanding about how the money is used.

Kansas youths need the best schools possible. They shouldn’t be used as political pawns.

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The Kansas City Star, Dec. 13

A minute ago, vaping was seen as a great way to quit smoking. But now we know that almost a third of teenagers who use e-cigarettes are smoking cigarettes six months later.

And now that we know more, too, about how unhealthy and risky vaping itself is, we agree with the Kansas State Board of Education’s unanimous vote this week to encourage school districts in the state to ban e-cigarettes and all tobacco products.

The kind of ban they’re suggesting would apply, just as it should, on all school grounds, in all school vehicles and at all school activities. It would apply not only to students but adults — guests, volunteers and employees — as well.

The state board is also right that the next step has to involve helping those already addicted to quit, which is not easy.

This is a full-fledged epidemic, and action can’t come fast enough: Nationally, vaping among high school students shot up 78% from 2017 to 2018, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Two vaping-related deaths have been reported in Kansas, and two in Missouri. School districts should enact comprehensive bans before that number climbs higher.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Dec. 15

It’s gratifying to hear U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran voicing support for the Manhattan airport.

What would be more gratifying is if the federal government put the money into a runway project that it originally said it would.

Sen. Moran, who has a home in Manhattan, told The Mercury this past week that he was supportive of our community’s effort to rebuild the runway at a width of 150 feet, the same as the existing runway. The federal government initially told the city government that it would provide money to do that, then double-clutched and said it would only support a 100-foot-wide runway.

This is a major project for our region, because an airport runway is only going to be built about once a generation. The wider runway allows larger planes to land and take off, and we need that width to support not only the commercial service we want but also the planes that serve intermittent events at K-State Athletics.

Plus — and this is the key to the issue, in our view — the airport has to be able to serve Fort Riley’s needs, too. This is why the federal government needs to be supportive, to the largest extent that it can. The Army is a federal operation, after all.

Sen. Moran put it well when he said, “This is not a typical airport. MHK has unique features that not only involve frequent travelers in the region, but the movement of troops and equipment from Fort Riley and necessary access for K-State and their athletics programs.”

The question is, will the feds adjust their rules to account for the uniqueness of our situation here? It’s a lot more cost-effective than scrambling around for some other place to land military airplanes in a time of war. We hope Sen. Moran and our other elected representatives can make that case effectively.

What’s at stake is millions of dollars of local taxpayer money. Truth is, we are going to want the wider runway enough to put local money into it. But it’s also only fair for the federal government to pony up, too.