Education Grabs Attention At Forum

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

State lawmakers received an earful from a crowd packed with supporters of public education in Wichita Saturday morning.

Education was the big issue at a forum held by the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation at the National Center for Aviation Training.

The ongoing debate over what should be considered adequate funding for public schools and payroll deductions for members of public teacher unions were the issues that came up most often during the sometimes contentious forum.

"This is the biggest crowd we've ever had," said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita.

More than 300 people packed the auditorium at NCAT to voice their concerns to legislators as they near the midway point of the 2013 Kansas Legislative Session.

Most of those to address the lawmakers spoke up in defense of public education.

"Educators were here, principals were here, parents were here, students were here today," Faust-Goudeau said.

Some of those sounding-off were teachers upset over a push in Topeka that they say would effectively end collective bargaining for educators.

"We want to be able to do our jobs and we've got to be able to be heard," a teacher told the delegation. "And when I voluntarily give my money to UTW (United Teachers of Wichita) or anybody else, that's so I can be heard."

The continuing legal dispute over funding for public schools, which was ordered into mediation by the Kansas Supreme Court Friday, was a hot topic.

"Approximately two-thirds of our state general fund budget goes into the public education system and so our focus; we want to make sure that money gets into the classroom and that it's appropriately spent," said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita.

Some legislators do not feel the public gets an accurate look at how much money goes to public schools.

"The total expenditures for student education in the Wichita USD 259 area is in excess of $12,000 (per student)," said Rep. Gene Sullentrop, R-Wichita. "The state's portion is in excess of $7,000."

Legislators say it will take a continuing dialogue with educators and parents to solve the school funding debate. However, some at the forum were upset over a proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution preventing the state's Supreme Court from having a say when it comes to school funding.

The Kansas Constitution requires a suitable provision for education finance.

"It's appropriate for the Legislature to define what "suitable" or what adequate means, not the courts," Brunk said.

He said legislators will have to listen closely to constituents to arrive at that definition.

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