Colyer sworn in as Kansas governor; vows to keep schools open

Just moments after being sworn in as Kansas’ 47th governor, Jeff Colyer vowed that Kansas schools would not be shut down on his watch. 

“I will not be responsible for shutting down Kansas government or schools,” he told a packed crowd for his Statehouse inaugural speech. “This is not Washington.” KASB’s Facebook Live video of Colyer’s address can be seen here. 

Colyer takes over as governor as the Legislature faces a Kansas Supreme Court deadline to provide a remedy to the school finance system that the court has ruled is inadequate and inequitable.  

Sworn into office by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, Colyer provided no further specifics on his stance on the school finance issue. 

His predecessor, Sam Brownback, just weeks earlier proposed increasing school funding by $600 million over five years. Brownback, who was appointed by President Donald Trump as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said his proposal could be paid for through state revenue growth, without the need for a tax increase. Many legislators have said they doubt that is possible given budget needs not only for schools but for many other areas of state government such as child welfare and health care. 

Legislative leaders have commissioned a school finance study that is due in six weeks and the court has given legislators until April 30 to provide a remedy. Some legislators have proposed a constitutional amendment that would prevent the courts from shutting down schools as part of school finance litigation but the court has never specifically said that it would shut schools.  

On Wednesday, Colyer, who served as lieutenant governor of Kansas for the past seven years under Brownback, revealed no details of what his approach would be on school finance. During his inaugural, he promised to listen, serve with humility and demand transparency and accountability. Colyer and legislative leaders were to meet today for discussions. Plans are under way for him to address a joint session of the Legislature, perhaps next week.  

Democrats said they expected little change between Colyer and Brownback, while moderate Republicans said they hoped Colyer would be more willing than Brownback to collaborate. In addition, Colyer faces a quick electoral test as he is running in a crowded Republican Party primary field for governor in August. 

Colyer grew up in Hays, graduated from medical school at the University of Kansas and became a plastic surgeon who has volunteered his medical services in some war-torn areas. He served in the Kansas House and Senate before joining Brownback’s ticket and winning election as lieutenant governor in 2010. 

As lieutenant governor, Colyer was involved mostly in health care efforts including the conversion of Kansas’ Medicaid program to KanCare. In recent months, he also has been visiting schools across Kansas, showing an interest in the Kansas Redesign project, where dozens of schools are realigning their systems to focus on the State Board of Education’s vision for Kansas to lead the world in the success of every student. 

Colyer started his inaugural day in his hometown of Hays, attending Mass at his alma mater Thomas More Prep-Marian High School and then visiting the West Side Alternative Mental Health for Kids, a cooperative effort between Hays USD 489, High Plains Mental Health Center and West Central Kansas Special Education Co-op. 

During his visit, Colyer met with High Plains and school district staff who talked about the success of Westside school, which was started in the early 1990s to help students who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. 

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