Attack of the Education Governor


Four years after Laura Kelly anointed herself the “education governor” of Kansas during her 2018 campaign, her record of achievement in that regard has us hoping she doesn’t declare herself the “oxygen governor” for her next term.

Indeed, while the results of Kelly’s first term might win her attaboys as the “education union and administration governor,” data on student performance shows the sash for “student achievement governor” rightly eludes her. Consider the following data gathered from the Kansas Department of Education on student performance over Kelly’s term:

  • In math over all grades, 29 percent of students were below grade level in 2018; 34 percent below grade in 2022. 33 percent were deemed “proficient” in 2018, but that figure dropped to 29 percent in 2022.
  • The same percentages apply across all grades in English Language Arts for below grade level performance in the same years. But the drop was steeper for those ranking “proficient” at 37 percent in 2018 down to 32 percent in 2022.
  • And the problems get worse in the younger grades. At the 10th grade level students in Kansas overall dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent proficient in math from 2018-2022 – that means two in ten. By last year nearly half – 46 percent – were below grade level in math (a decline from 44 percent in 2018). One in four was proficient in English, and 2022 showed a 6 percentage point increase (33-39) in students below grade level in these critical communication skills.

These aren’t measurements of advanced skills for people expected to execute a moon launch, mind you – this is the basic blocking and tackling of societal function; the skills needed to balance checkbooks and figure angles and compile a resume without spelling and sounding like John Fetterman. And Kansas kids aren’t getting better at those skills.  While Kansas students are in academic freefall, the “education governor” has busied herself supporting transgender preference policies, losing $400 million in Kansas unemployment funds to computer hackers and bragging about all the money the state’s higher tax rates have siphoned out of your pockets.

Kelly never talks about education “achievement” and for good reason – on her watch it’s been a disaster. Like the education lobbyists, Kelly only talks about money and the education “system.” For the KNEA and other educrats who donate so generously to Kelly and other Democrat political campaigns, the focus is always on “the system.” But the achievement of the students – the actual outcomes of all those dollars? Well, that’s somebody else’s problem.

In fact it’s clear what priority parents hold on the education lobby’s tick list. In November when @NEAToday tweeted “Educators love their students and know better than anyone what they need to learn and to thrive” the inner themes of the eduacracy were illustrated pretty plainly. The KNEA never disavowed that tweet – or the message that the “system,” – not parents or families – are the key to thriving kids.

That message isn’t lost on parents, which may be a partial explanation for the fact Kansas public schools – again under Kelly’s vaunted stewardship – have lost more than 8,000 students since before the pandemic, according to figures released in December. As achievement has declined and Kansas schools have shown themselves to be more and more expensive but so disproportionately interested in social emotional learning priorities, many Kansas parents have simply said “enough.” And who can blame them?

Of course Kelly’s marketing moniker was really aimed as a dig former governor Republican Sam “Darth” Brownback and the perception among the eduacracy that Kansas schools had to go back to quill pens and slate tablets during Brownback’s years as governor. In reality, funding for education increased every year during Brownback’s tenure except for 2016, when a partial payment to the state retirement system was deferred. 

Under the “education governor” however, there are more and larger salary earners in the industry than ever before. While student achievement plummeted, the KSDE shows superintendent pay increased overall 15 percent between 2018 and 2022 compared to an 11 percent increase for teachers.

And who can forget the “education governor” closed schools and torpedoed a year of learning for Kansas students on advice that was never backed by proof or science? Now, that’s commitment.

The big worry for Kansans, as her new term begins, is just exactly what Laura Kelly will advocate next.

– Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.