Education Funding Key Issue As Kansas Dems Discuss Future

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

At the party's first major gathering since the end of the 2013 legislative session, Democrats blasted Governor Sam Brownback for his handling of education funding.

"What Governor Brownback has done is so drastic that it's going to suck all the energy out of K-12 and higher education," said Jill Docking, a former chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.

Democrats had gathered for their annual DemoFest conference. The day-long conference at the Holiday Inn in east Wichita featured a morning discussion session with speakers and an evening presentation by keynote speaker Juan Sepulveda, Senior Advisor on Hispanic Affairs for the Democratic National Committee.

The presentations by the speakers in the morning plenary session served to rally Kansas Democrats, many of whom are frustrated following the legislative session which featured another round of education cuts.

One speaker after another stressed the importance of preparing now for the 2014 elections.

"Right now we have a governor and a legislature that is decidedly anti-public education and that's why we are gearing up for the next election to hopefully make some changes in terms of who makes the education policy in this state," State Senator Anthony Hensley said.

Hensley and other speakers told the crowd the state is not spending near what it should be per student.

They cited a January Kansas district court ruling which found the state is unconstitutionally shortchanging students by about $400 million. That ruling has been appealed and is expected to be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Speakers said not only is the lack of funding hurting student progress, they say it's taking money out of the pockets of Kansans.

"If we don't invest at the state level for public schools, then local school boards will have to cut their budgets or raise property taxes," Hensley said.

But while they made these comments at a gathering of Democrats, speakers say it's not a one-party issue. They say the goal is electing a new group of leaders next year who, regardless of their party affiliation, share a desire for an ideological shift in education policy in Kansas.

"This is not about being a Democrat, this is about being a Kansan," Docking said.

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