Oh, how we lavish love on the first child of civic engagement, those presidential and congressional races. And don’t we dote on the youngest child, the special initiatives and bond issues, those babies of civic participation. Recent local elections across the state, the perpetually overlooked middle kids, hovered in the 9% turnout range.
But these elections are miscast. They should be favored children whom we imbue with our dreams. Just think what our communities could be with some innovation and some experimentation.
We could decide a lot of things in our municipal elections. Let’s focus on two: police and schools. If all politics are local, then as a nation, we’re ignoring our localities. The solutions we seek may actually be next door rather than in the next time zone. We should be reimagining our communities and solving problems close to home.
For example, protests rocked communities nationwide – including communities here in Kansas – five years ago after a Ferguson, Missouri, officer shot and killed an unarmed teen. Cities continue to wrestle with police accountability questions.
But what if communities of color were able to decide who polices them and whether certain officers with troubling service records should remain on the force? Politicians have term limits, and they don’t have guns.
Police unions have more say than residents, and they’ve often made it difficult to discipline or fire bad officers. Communities could address this and other problems while rebuilding relationships between residents and the police through municipal elections.
Consider also what could be done to improve schools. Communities should have a say on teachers. Students with three ineffective teachers in a row almost never recover academically. A March 2018 article by Alex Friedman, founder of Brooklyn Math Tutors, titled “The Long-term Effects of Ineffective Teachers,” said as much.
Students placed with highly effective teachers for three years in a row significantly outperform average students, he said. A student who has an outstanding teacher for just one year will remain ahead of their peers for the next few years, Friedman said.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well – a student with even one ineffective teacher may not catch up to his peers for up to three years, and having one excellent teacher doesn’t fully compensate for the effect of an ineffective one, Friedman said. Shouldn’t we be better managing ineffective teachers?
Now, these are just ideas. Boundary challenging ideas. The point is simply that we should and could be experimenting more locally as a direct result of our municipal elections.
We’ve all likely asked ourselves, why are we still voting on Tuesdays instead of on Saturdays? Why don’t we ever vote to lower taxes? Aren’t there less expensive ways for people to pay their penance than expensive jail stays?
Local elections shouldn’t be middle children. They should be exciting elections where we accomplish things locally that would seem impossible to accomplish nationally.
Bear in mind also that lots of middle children – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony and Mark Twain – were anything but ordinary.
A version of this article appears in the Fall 2019 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit https://kansasleadershipcenter.org/store/one-year-subscription-to-the-journal-4-upcoming-issues/.