In their coverage of teacher vacancies in Kansas, public education in general for that matter, the media have a way of insinuating that some heartless, even racist, forces are oppressing the children of Kansas.
“Children who come from low-income families, have disabilities, aren’t white or don’t speak English at home appear to be disproportionately paying the price of Kansas’ teacher shortage,” opens a typical media blast, this one from KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR station.
KCUR Reporter Celia Llopis-Jensen quotes Steve Wentz, president of the Wichita teachers union, to reinforce her point. Says Wentz, “It does not lend itself to a fully functioning democracy to not have a strong public education system. At some level, money and race is obviously an issue here that people don’t want to talk about.” Wentz has it exactly backwards. The media and liberal interest groups, like his teachers union, want to talk about nothing else.
If “race” were really the issue and people who “aren’t white” were paying the price, how does one explain the fact that by the very statistics KCUR cites, “Asian students” outperform every other racial or ethnic group including “White students.”
Then, too, there are some problems that no amount of money will easily resolve. One is that in their combined math and reading scores, “English language learners” are outperforming “African-American students.” To tackle that problem would expose too many fully counterproductive liberal nostrums.
To address vacancies, however, there are some solutions within the reach of school districts. For one, they could be much more strategic in the allocation of their own resources. Wentz’s Wichita district, for instance, saw an increase in student population of only 3 percent from 2005 to 2017. During that same period, the district increased its teacher rolls by 13 percent. The problem, though, is that the district increased its manager rolls by 26 percent during that same period.
As Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert points out, “If Wichita had Shawnee Mission’s ratio of students per manager, they would have 94 fewer managers.”
At Shawnee Mission’s ratio, Kansas City (Kansas) would have 42 fewer managers. If the district lacks the money to attract teachers, it might be because of the salaries it pays to non-teachers: a police chief at $124,568, an electrician foreman at $99,829, an executive secretary at $92,219, a head custodian at $91,485, and the list goes on.
Wentz and his fellow union activists would address the issue of vacancies much better if they turned the attention away from political posturing and towards the people at the district level who are signing their paychecks. The media would do well to follow suit.