Friday, January 17, 2014

Hitting the Wall at Mile 25

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
-H.L. Mencken

There are 450,000 students in Kansas.  As we all know from personal experience, no two children are alike or have the same needs.  It takes a complex system to provide resources commensurate with every child’s needs.  There are 2,833 schools in Kansas, each in a unique community with unique needs and unique resources.  It takes a complex system to provide resources to educate the children in this many schools.  There are 286 school districts in Kansas, each with unique needs and resources.  It takes a complex system to provide suitable resources for every district in Kansas.

A complaint I often hear about the school finance formula in Kansas is that it is just too complicated.  I heard a Kansas senator speak last week and he challenged the board members and administrators in the room to tell him how much weighting they got for each student.  He was making a point that the formula is so complex that no one can even remember how much weighting they get.

It is probably human nature to seek simple solutions to complex problems, but noted cynic HL Mencken’s words are worth considering, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Back in the 80’s (for you youngsters that is the 1980’s-a time when Alex P. Keaton was king and bangs were big) I decided that I would like to run a marathon.  I was living in Lawrence at the time and they had a marathon that corresponded with the KU Relays.  I trained hard and was ready to run as the big day approached.  My family was very supportive, my brother, sister, mom, dad, and all the in-laws were there the day before.  As we discussed the run the night before, my sister-in-law posed a question:  “What if you have to go to the bathroom?”  It was something I had not considered, but that I studied on that night.

Some of you may have run marathons recently.  The question of going to the bathroom seems ridiculous and not particularly complex.  But this was back in the day.  There were no Johnny on the Jobs anywhere.  The concept of hydration was just coming into vogue and most of us were raised on the idea that drinking before an athletic event would make you sick.  These were the days before water bottles and three different levels of Gatorade. My simple solution to the question of bathroom use was easy- I just won’t drink anything.

Race morning came and it was a beautiful spring day in Lawrence, morning temperatures in the 60’s with a high predicted in the 80’s. A perfect day for a nice morning run, unless it’s a hilly 26.2 mile run and you don’t drink anything. No Gatorade, no water, no coffee, no 5 hour energy, nothing.  It is really surprising that I made it to mile 25 before passing out.  I struggled up the hill north of Allen Fieldhouse, and like a KU football team, blacked out before reaching Memorial Stadium. 

I learned a valuable lesson that day. My clear and simple solution of not drinking was clearly and simply wrong.  My worry is that if we seek a simple answer to the complex problem of funding schools, we will bonk long before mile 25.  And the stakes are much higher than a finisher’s medal and t-shirt.  The stakes are a suitable education for all of the children of Kansas.

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