For young professionals, the choice of staying in Kansas (or moving to Kansas) is driven by the answers to the questions that my wife and I discuss nightly. And study after study shows that a state’s economy and the health of our communities bears a close correlation to the migration patterns of these professionals. If they stay (and more come), our state’s future is bright. If they leave, a downward spiral is difficult to escape.
After putting our young daughter to bed each night, my wife and I have been having nearly the same conversation for more than a year now. The details of our discussion might vary night to night, but at the core, the principal questions are the same. And I believe, from talking to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers, that a similar conversation goes on in many houses across Kansas each evening. I believe these conversations are happening among college graduates too.
The central questions are these:
- Is the state of Kansas going to be able to recover from the enormous set of challenges that have been created by disastrous policy-making in Topeka over the past six years?
- When our children are old enough to attend public school, will we still have high-performing schools filled with teachers who—while still not paid nearly what their commitment and service is worth—feel valued and are encouraged to be innovative? Or we continue to see our elected officials pinch pennies and play shell games with school finances as a means to justify other agendas?
- Will our local officials continue to be placed in a heavy straightjacket by state leaders, preventing cities and towns from addressing local infrastructure and social needs like libraries, parks, transit, and public safety? Because of those damaging limits, will our home increase in value in parallel with a healthy, thriving, community? Or will the mythology of the primacy of low business taxes crowd out our abilities to make our neighborhoods better?
- Are our retired, public teacher parents, going to have the retirement income that they paid for? Or do we need to plan for the day when KPERS is no longer solvent at all because our elected leaders “borrowed” from their share until it was gone?
These questions—and the answers—matter deeply to us. And I know they matter deeply to thousands of others like us.
Kansas used to be a place of pragmatism, bipartisanship, and moderation. These past six years have instead been times of blind ideology, faith in discredited economic theory, and efforts to create a terrifying dystopia where there are guns nearly everywhere, affordable health care options nearly nowhere, and proudly mean-spirited attempts to have the government define boundaries on the right of each of us to make a life with someone we love. And because of that dark turn, many have turned away from Kansas, putting our future at even greater risk.
Moreover, we must remember this. Many like me—and young professionals and college graduates who are weighing whether to stay or to leave—are privileged to be able to do so. But many Kansans who are being hurt by the direction our state has taken do not have the luxury of this same choice. For some, their economic prospects, whether due to poverty or profession, do not allow them to easily leave Kansas even as the state makes their lives harder. For others, the demands of family, whether it be attending to parents or grandparents in decline, or medical conditions of a spouse or children, are likewise constrained from choosing freely. They are all forced to endure whatever Kansas throws at them.
That’s why the answers to these questions matter. It matters because we have to stop digging and start rebuilding. It matters because we need to elect leaders who want to make Kansas a place everyone sees as a beacon of practicality and commitment to community.
Next month, it is essential that we all take steps to turn the ship of state around. I hope everyone reading this votes. I hope everyone reading this finds one more person to encourage to vote, one person they can drive to the polls, one person they can call to remind to vote. We need to elect leaders who are focused first and foremost on getting our state’s fiscal affairs in order, and then on returning to pragmatic approaches to how to meet the purposes of government—to ensure each and every Kansan has the ability to live safe, educated, and healthy.
Matt Lindsey is the president of the Kansas Independent College Association & Fund, where he coordinates a range of programs designed to strengthen Kansas' private, non-profit, colleges through collaboration, governmental advocacy, and public engagement and to support the ability of college students to choose and afford an effective, high-quality college education that fits their individual goals. Lindsey previously worked as the Executive Director for Kansas Campus Compact and as an adjunct faculty member with Kansas State University's Staley School of Leadership Studies. He also worked in Washington, DC as the Senior Associate for Freedman Consulting, where he advised non-profits, philanthropies, and civic groups on public advocacy strategies.