Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Laura Kelly responds to KASB questionnaire

Here are the responses to the KASB education questionnaire from Laura Kelly, a Democratic candidate for governor.

  1. If elected, what would be your top education priorities?

I have a vision of education that spans from early childhood to K-12 to college to the workforce. To do this, we must invest early and put kids on the right path. My first priority as governor will be to address the Kansas Supreme Court ruling and fix the issue with inflation so our schools can be constitutionally funded. Then, instead of focusing on doing the minimum, we will begin to plan and innovate. We will make sure Kansas has the best schools in the nation so our children can be ready for the jobs of the future.

To do this, we will work with educators and experts to set a strategy to address the statewide teacher shortage and improve pay for educators. In addition to fully funding our K-12 schools, we will expand early childhood programs. Just this year, I added money to the budget to improve early learning in Kansas. I will also focus on improving our higher education, including technical or trade schools and job training programs. Lastly, I will make sure that our students have access to quality mental health services in their schools.

  1. What attributes or experiences do you bring to the table when it comes to helping improve education in Kansas?

Fighting for children and families has been a lifelong mission of mine. Right out of high school, I went to work at a camp that served disadvantaged adolescents.  When I became a recreational therapist, I worked with children battling mental illness. I actually first ran for office because my state senator voted to slash funding for our schools.

From my very first legislative session, I have fought for our K-12 schools. During my time in the legislature, I’ve worked to make sure every Kansas child has the support they need to succeed. That means access to good public schools, but it also means strong early childhood programs, an accountable child welfare system to protect kids, and affordable, safe child care. Because of my commitment and work on behalf of children, I recently received the 2018 Distinguished Service to Children Award and the Friend of Education Award.

My proudest accomplishment was securing critical support for early childhood education programs. In 2009, I pushed for the creation and funding of the Early Childhood Block Grants to ensure that more kids enter kindergarten ready to learn. These programs help kids get the good start they need and lead to success later in school and life.

Sadly, for years, Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer pushed an irresponsible tax plan on our state that decimated our state’s budget and hurt our schools. But thankfully, through working together, we were able to reverse the tax plan and once again begin to invest in our schools.

As governor, I will unite our state around our children and make sure they have the opportunities the need to succeed from pre-K to the workforce.

  1. As you have been campaigning, what do voters say about public education in Kansas?

Kansans are very concerned about their community schools. They’ve seen larger class sizes, decreased resources in classrooms, rural schools closing and experienced teachers leaving the profession. They felt the cuts that Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer made – fewer paras, social workers, and support staff. They understand that schools are the foundation of a strong economy. Kansans want the state to invest in their schools and their future.

  1. KASB believes that in school finance, the Kansas Constitution provides the necessary and appropriate checks and balances between co-equal branches of government that have served Kansas students well. Do you support or oppose a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the judicial branch from considering disputes over what is considered adequate funding of public schools?

No, I strongly oppose amending the Kansas Constitution. Kansas voted to add the language that requires the checks on the legislature in 1966, and it should remain there.

  1. KASB believes that school finance must provide adequate and equitable funding as required by the Kansas Constitution. How will you ensure that public schools are adequately funded?

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled recently that changes to the funding formula for schools this year – which I supported – were constitutional. This will ensure that money is distributed more fairly. However, the legislature and the new governor must still adjust funding for inflation this coming year. I will encourage that change to be made quickly.

As governor, I will work with teachers, administrators, parents and other experts to set goals and plan for the future of our schools. Instead of going from court case to another, always doing the minimum, we will begin to plan and innovate so our children can succeed. I will also use my budget expertise to ensure Kansas continues to recover from the Brownback experiment and can meet the needs of our students in the years to come.

  1. Do you support the Kansans Can vision of the State Board of Education and will that require more funding to achieve, and if so, how should the revenue be raised?

Absolutely. The world is changing and our schools must adapt to meet the needs of each student. I support efforts to redesign our schools and the school experience to focus more on students. And I support efforts to improve outcomes for kids – no matter where they call home.

Instead of doing the minimum, we must begin to plan and innovate so our children can succeed in the jobs of the future. As governor, I will work with our state and local school boards to best address the needs of our students, staff and teachers. Our goal will always be to make Kansas schools the best in the nation so our children can compete in our global economy.

Just last year, I led the effort to reverse the Brownback-Colyer tax plan. Since then, Kansas has had some good news for a change. Revenue has come in $1.5 billion higher than last year. Not to mention the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states can collect sales tax on internet purchases. With this good news, we will be able to make investments in our schools without raising additional revenue – for now. We will need to monitor this situation closely and work together to meet our other budget obligations as we invest more in education.

  1. What can the state do to help schools be safer and what should schools do to become safer?

No student or educator should feel unsafe going to school, and no parent should worry when dropping their child off at school. That’s why I voted to ban guns on college campuses. I also supported other commonsense safety regulations, such as banning assault weapons and allowing law enforcement to take guns away from individuals found to be a threat to self or others.

It’s also essential that we increase mental health services available to Kansas students. I support adding 150 new psychologists and clinical social workers to our school support staff to assist students struggling with mental illness.

As governor, I will bring everyone together – law enforcement officials, school officials, mental and public and public health experts and parents – to find common ground and meaningful solutions to this problem.

  1. The Kansas Constitution says public schools are to be maintained, developed and operated by locally elected school boards. Do you believe most decisions about operating schools should be made at the local level? How would you decide when the state, rather than local boards, should be in control?

I have always been a strong supporter of local control. Each city in Kansas has its own elected officials, geographic and cultural makeup, and this needs to be reflected in policy. It is critical that the state allow local school boards to do their jobs and make important policy choices for their school district.  The state can, however, help to ensure that investment in our schools is a top priority and that we are providing adequate and equitable funding to all Kansas school districts.

  1. What needs to be done to increase the number of teachers, especially in hard to fill positions, such as math, science and special education, in addition to increasing the number of counselors and school psychologists?

It’s essential that we recruit the best teachers possible to Kansas and keep them here. To do this, we must pay our teachers well and give them the respect they deserve. I will also work with educators and experts to set a strategy to address the statewide teacher shortage from within. We can partner with community colleges and universities to educate new teachers and encourage them to stay in Kansas for a designated amount of time through incentives and tuition forgiveness.

  1. KASB believes that public funding of private education can harm public education because private schools are not required to accept and educate all students on the same basis as public schools. What is your position on the state program that provides tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to scholarships that allow certain low-incomes students attend private schools?

I do not believe that public money should go to support students in private schools, rather those funds should be invested in Kansas’ public education system. Tax credits, vouchers and scholarships to private school students lack oversight and fairness, and should not be a part of Kansas’s education budget. Instead, we need to focus on the needs of our public schools and ensure that all Kansas public schools, no matter their location, are equitably funded.

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