The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

August 31, 2013

Abramson’s reform tease ignores Kentucky’s education failures

FRANKFORT — Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson’s announcement that he would not run for governor may have political rivals breathing a sigh of relief, but what he said in his announcement leaves me scratching my own head.

Abramson told the Elizabethtown Rotary Club that his true passion is not politics but education reform.

Could it be?

Had the day finally come when one of the most powerful politicians in the history of the Bluegrass State would be willing to take a bold stand – as policymakers in neighboring Indiana and Tennessee have – in opposition to unions and other special interests and allow fundamental education reform through merit pay for teachers or school choice for Kentucky kids?

Alas, just before the excited expectations became too much to handle, the former Louisville mayor crushed any naive hopes he had teased out of the audience, by revealing what he actually meant by education reform: newer textbooks.

“As of 2007-2008 budget, that was the last time the state put money into textbooks … Textbooks!” Abramson exclaimed while wagging his finger at reporters. “We used to put $21 (to $23 million a year into textbooks. Zero! We cut the budget.”

Besides the obvious situation that technology has kids and their classrooms moving away from textbooks, is this really Abramson’s big passion?

• Is a lack of newer textbooks really what’s causing every racial group in Kentucky to lag significantly behind nearly every other southern state on national ACT scores?

• Is a lack of newer textbooks really what’s caused those same ACT scores in the commonwealth to stagnate over the last 20 years, despite a $3,000 increase in per-student spending per during the same period? (Besides, with such huge increases in education spending, shouldn’t there be enough funding to purchase needed textbooks and supplies?)

• Is a lack of newer textbooks really the major factor in keeping generations of Kentuckians – particularly minority, low-income residents – on a carousel of government dependency?

• And does a lack of textbooks really go to the heart of the problem of one doomed generation “graduating” from under-performing schools only to have another entering the cruel cycle?

Abramson would do well to solicit some advice from those who actually face the fall-out of our epic educational failures: parents of minority Jefferson County children studying at Dunn or Chenoweth elementaries, where the black-white achievement gap on standardized test scores exceeds 50 percent.

Better yet, ask parents of students across the bulk of the commonwealth – like at Simpsonville or Paducah’s Clark elementary schools – where one-size-fits-any-student classrooms also result in black students lagging behind their white peers by more than 50 percent.

Here’s a man who could use his considerable influence to fundamentally reform the commonwealth’s education system. Yet Abramson is dishing out the same old tired political rhetoric we’ve heard from politicians who want a stellar legacy – as long as it doesn’t require significant amounts of courage, controversy or hard work.

After all, it’s much easier just to say what he and most other politicians say ad infinitum: We just haven’t spent enough taxpayer dollars on education.

Talk about an ongoing insult to Kentucky taxpayers who shell out billions each year to fund our largely mediocre and under-performing education system!

Despite the sweeping advances in elementary algebra and English grammar over the past five years (written dripping with sarcasm), newer textbooks will not be the deciding factor in whether our kids are successfully propelled into a competitive 21stcentury workforce.

Knowing that a politician with such a narrow, uninspiring and do-nothing-significant view of education won’t be following the current – and like-minded occupant – of the governor’s mansion has this columnist breathing his own sigh of relief.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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