Smith: Must Kansas fall?

Welcome to Kansas sign | Courtesy of Stuart Seeger/Flickr
Could the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas renew their athletic rivalry as a way to boost education funding in both states? | Courtesy of Stuart Seeger/Flickr

On a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains, I passed through Kansas City and saw a billboard that disturbed me. The billboard was posted on major highway, encouraging Kansas teachers to seek better pay and benefits in Missouri.

The recent economic experiment in state government by the Kansas governor has left the state without the funding to run some of the greatest school districts in the Midwest. The Olathe School District, for example, is facing a deficit of $2 million.

For my entire lifetime, I’ve admired Kansas for its commitment to education. Good schools translate into great economic opportunity and promise. It’s a concept that’s as old as the Greeks.

There’s plenty of commentary and hand-wringing about the Kansas governor’s economic policies. So I won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’d like to propose a way forward.

Is there a possibility that Kansas’ educational funding woes – leading to early school closings last spring – could be helped by an unlikely alliance? Could there be a way for Missouri and Kansas to cooperate?

The Border Showdown, a football game between Missouri and Kansas, has not been played since 2012. The reason is Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference, and a Kansas decided not to play the game, a series that began in 1907.

Again, this sore subject has been much discussed, and there’s no sense in creating new tensions through a rehash.

The financial take home from the game for both schools was estimated to be $2 million. If the popular series was renewed for a common cause, might it be possible that there could be much more money for both schools?

Let’s take the scenario a step further: What if both schools decided to donate the proceeds of the game to the public school systems in their states?

The focus of the game would turn from mutual dislike – based on a Civil War that ended more than 150 years ago –to paying it forward for both state’s children.

Somebody has to stand up for education in both states.

Why not the two major universities?

Both schools’ athletic programs are doing well. Kansas is nearing $100 million in annual revenue, thanks to a spectacular basketball team. Missouri is near $85 million, thanks to its SEC transition and success with its football program.

Beyond altruism, the future of our higher academic institutions depends on student success in their respective states at the primary and secondary levels.

Missouri has as much to gain as Kansas.

Funding for Missouri’s public schools has continually been inadequate, making the state’s schools less competitive on a variety of levels.

It’s impossible to estimate the number of jobs lost in Missouri because corporations went elsewhere so that the children of employees could get a higher quality public education. It’s now impossible to estimate the same for Kansas.

Both states are now in a race to the bottom.

Interestingly, higher education is a huge source of pride in both states. The universities have continually set standards in all areas, and so have some of the school systems in both states.

So let’s return to the playing field.

But we should not be there to continue the bitterness of the Civil War – or a chance to earn big bucks for successful athletic programs.

We should be there for our children.

Randall Smith

Randall D. Smith is the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism and is the founder of Missouri Business Alert.

He can be reached at



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