Republican gubernatorial candidate Gov. Jeff Colyer responds to the KASB education questionnaire

Here are the responses to the KASB education questionnaire from Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican candidate for governor.

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

As Governor, I know that education is an economic driver for Kansas, and our strong education system is one big reason families and businesses move to Kansas. I want Kansas to be a place where our children see their futures, and we absolutely cannot grow the state if we do not adequately invest in our students who are our future workforce.

We must continue to work with communities and businesses to provide a platform for integrating education from pre-school to higher education so that we get kids prepared for the jobs of the future. That’s why I started the Governor’s Education Council, bringing education and business stakeholders together to discuss how we can best prepare students to succeed in the 21st century economy. We need to maintain a strong higher education system for them to get college and advanced graduate degrees. That’s why I signed a budget that increased funding for our state universities, community colleges, and technical colleges. This will also provide employers and businesses across the state with the workforce they need to do the jobs required of them.

I want to see more options for students coming out of high school. Many people can benefit from apprenticeship programs and technical education programs. I proposed and signed into law full funding for career and technical education tuition so Kansas high school students can take tech. ed. courses for free before they even have their high school diplomas. I don’t think it’s realistic to assume a typical four-year post-secondary education is the best option for everyone, and I intend to encourage more opportunities for young people to receive the education and training they need to thrive in our workforce. A case in point: we launched Kansas Career Navigator (https://kscareernav.gov), an innovative tool to help students find high school career pathways and high wage, high demand jobs available by county.

Other top education priorities for me, and I truly believe these are achievable if we work together, include continuing to increase our investment in education without raising taxes, improving our graduation and post-secondary effectiveness rates, supporting Kansans Can to redesign schools to focus on student learning, hiring the best teachers and behavioral health professionals for student growth, and advancing college and career readiness.

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

Education has always been important to me. Growing up in Hays, I had the opportunity to learn at several great schools. I learned history under the guidance of Jim McNiece, now a Member of the Kansas State Board of Education. I was even classmates with KASB’s own Mark Tallman (hat-tip to his always informative blog, http://tallmankasb.blogspot.com/). I later studied economics at Georgetown University, international relations at the University of Cambridge, and medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Education yields opportunity, and I am keenly aware of this fact.

I’m not your typical politician. I’m a surgeon, and I think and problem solve like a surgeon. When I see a problem, I approach it the same way I do in the operating room. I listen to the concerns and figure out what our issues are and then I step in and I solve it. That is the proper way to lead. Too often politics attracts the kind of people who prefer to cast blame first rather than focus on problem-solving. That doesn’t work in the operating room and it’s not the way my administration operates.

I think Kansans want a servant leader who is truly concerned with the issues that matter to them–improving education being foremost among them. Kansans want someone who is dedicated to solving problems in a way that sets us up for success in the long term. I’m not the loudest or the most brash. I’m not the media darling you’ll see all over the national news circuit. I’m a workhorse, not a show pony. I don’t see this job as a stepping stone for aspirations in Washington. I’m focused on Kansas, the true heart of America. I want to listen, serve, and lead the people of Kansas and help make our state a place where our children see their futures.

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

Voters tell me that our education system is good, but they want to make it even better. They want opportunities for their children right here at home. They want to keep schools open, invest in education, and improve outcomes. I was in Salina the other day, and a woman told me that “there’s a reason your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror… you are supposed to look forward and not backward.” I thought that was an apt description of the sense that I get from voters across the state. They are ready to move on from the past and work together to address the issues of the present. We need to move forward. That is where I am headed.</p?

  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?

We’ve had 10 straight Governors, 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, who have led with the cloud of school finance litigation hanging over their heads. I believe it’s time to let the people of Kansas weigh in and decide this issue. They changed the constitution in the 1960s by adding provisions on what comprises suitable provision for the finance of education, and they should get to decide again if they still support that or if they want to change it. I support letting the people vote. The amendment is one way to end decades of school finance litigation.

  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?

We’ve done it. When I became Governor, I called on the Legislature to keep schools open, invest in education over multiple years without raising taxes, and focus on improving student outcomes. We got it done. The solution is a good faith effort to make a strong investment in our children and the future of our state. It resolves the equity issues so children in Galena, Hays, Salina, or Overland Park will have the same educational opportunities. It includes measurable outcomes through the accreditation system, which are absolutely key to getting the focus back on Kansas kids. There’s still more work to do, and I look forward to building upon the work we did together this year to address the remaining issues and allocate dollars to the classroom without raising taxes.

  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?

I wholeheartedly commend the State Board and the Dept. of Education for working with schools (both the Mercury 7 schools and those in the Gemini program) on this truly innovative school redesign model. Kansans Can will help focus us on very important principles:

●Early childhood and kindergarten readiness
● social-emotional learning
● school organized around the students
● relationships with families/businesses/communities
● individual plans of study for every student
● high school graduation and postsecondary success

I’m excited that the school finance legislation requires the Board of Education to establish and publish rigorous accountability measures at the district and building levels that are aligned with Kansans Can, in the areas of social-emotional learning, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, graduation, and postsecondary success. I look forward to visiting more of these schools and seeing their results in the coming months.

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

All violence is tragic, and the school shootings and homicides that have taken place in other states recently are horrible. We must work together to help protect our children who go to school each and every day to learn and shouldn’t have to worry about their safety.

Since I have been governor, I have traveled the state visiting schools in nearly every corner of the state. Those I spoke to were focused on different solutions. That is why I was proud to sign a budget that increased funding for school safety and security to help schools put in place the solutions that are right for them. The budget I signed included solutions like establishing guidelines between schools and state agencies to fortify schools against armed threats, installing hardware like metal detectors and hardened glass, enhancing communications interoperability, and working more closely with law enforcement to keep our students secure while they’re focused on learning.

I was also proud to invest in a mental health intervention pilot within the school finance bill to ensure children in our schools are receiving the behavioral health care that they need.

These aren’t easy fixes, but they symbolize progress on the road to solving the problems faced by our schools who are trying to keep our kids safe while they learn.

  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 recognize the constitutional duties of the independently-elected Kansas State Board of Education and the role of the Commissioner as well. The Board is tasked by the Kansas Constitution with “general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state, except educational functions delegated by law to the state board of regents.” I also respect the power of Legislature to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” and to pass laws that govern statewide when a patchwork of policies or decisions is untenable.

All that being said, as Governor I am a proponent of local control. Many decisions are best decided by local communities, who know the needs of their schools, students, and teachers better than anyone else. It has been said that government closest to the people is best. Locally elected school boards embody this principle. They should be making the decisions that affect their schools, children, and communities.

  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?

Growing up in Hays, I was blessed to have the opportunity to learn at several very good schools under the direction of some truly wonderful teachers. One of my most memorable teachers was my history teacher. He engaged students in his classes through active participation in the learning process. In return, he asked for our very best, expecting hard work and preparation, so that we would expand our horizons and practice critical thinking every day.

This teacher was none other than Jim McNiece, who is now a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, representing District 10. He was one of many influential educators in my life that helped point the way toward a brighter future. I would not be the man I am today, let alone the Governor of Kansas, without the efforts of men and women like Mr. McNiece (abridged excerpt from op-ed: kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article209203509.html).

Teachers, counselors, and psychologists are essential parts of the educational experience. Increasing their numbers, especially in hard to fill positions and certain high-demand areas of the state, is a goal of mine.

One way to do that is just by changing the tone. I am a proud supporter of public education. I want teachers, counselors, and psychologists to know that they are appreciated. There’s been somewhat of an adversarial relationship over the past few years between the Statehouse and the schoolhouse, and this was unacceptable under my watch. After I became Governor, changing the tone and unveiling the curtains on a new day in Kansas was a high priority for me. I hope school employees have noticed the difference.

Importantly, I was also very excited to sign the school finance bills this session that increased our investment in public education by $520 million over 5 years. Additionally, we’re going to come back next legislative session and figure out how to include inflation increases as well. I trust that local school boards will wisely allocate these resources over the next several years to make sure they are hiring good teachers, counselors, and psychologists. That’s what this is all about: giving school boards the resources they need to hire the people they need to educate their students as well as possible.

Additionally, the bill adds long-overdue dollars for special education, invests in a mental health intervention pilot to ensure children in our schools are receiving behavioral health care that they need from mental health professionals, and increases funding for mentor teachers to provide support to teachers all across the state. We also need to continue our investments in higher education and in STEAM program to ensure we’re educating the next generation of educators.

  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 would not support an attempt to repeal the tax credit scholarship program. Many inner city families are benefiting from it. However, I am focused on investing in public education and achieving improved outcomes for Kansas students.

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