Congressman tours Wichita schools

Newly-elected U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, R-Wichita, toured three Wichita USD 259 schools Monday during his first week away from Washington, D.C. since joining Congress.

The tour showcased choice in public schools, college and career preparation and special education.

Estes replaced former 4th District Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is now Director of the CIA. Estes assumed office on April 25 following a special election.

Estes’ first stop in Wichita was L’Ouverture Career Explorations and Technology Magnet School, one of 24 magnet elementary, middle and high schools open to all USD 259 students who choose to attend. Wichita magnet schools are organized in four educational and career pathways.

L’Ouverture’s student demographic is 95 percent free or reduced lunch status. Students in grades 3-5 demonstrated for Estes how the school’s one-to-one iPad initiative allows them to access library books and science curriculum and to use the devices to prepare book reports and write up science experiment results. Throughout the school, bulletin boards featuring careers ranging from butterfly scientist to medical technician to United States Senator showcased the required job skills, education and salary for those occupations and a QR code for students and parents to scan for further information. College and university pennants lined the walls of classrooms and hallways, encouraging students and parents to consider the benefits of higher education.

At Wichita West High School, the congressman met with the newly-crowned state champion student journalism team, which works in a classroom lined with technology purchased through career and technical education funds. Estes then met with Project Lead the Way students who are using engineering skills to solve real-world problems en route to college and careers and with high school students who are preparing for jobs as first responders and in nursing.

A lunch hour meeting with superintendents and board members from Wichita, Derby, Haysville, El Dorado, Valley Center, Augusta, Clearwater, Maize and Newton featured a round table discussion of the federal government’s role in education. Estes, a former Kansas state treasurer, said the complexity of issues he faces have “geometrically increased” in the move from state to national office. He expressed support for career and technical education, noting “we need job growth to drive our economy” and that many well-paying jobs do not require a four-year degree.

In response to widespread concerns among the superintendents about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ advocacy of non-public school choice, Estes said the federal government must make sure it has “the right metrics” when comparing public schools to charter schools.

The education leaders also expressed grave concerns about the passage last week of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which cuts more than $800 billion dollars, or 25 percent, of Medicaid reimbursements to schools over the next 10 years. Kansas schools receive about $46 million in Medicaid funding for in-school services, mostly to special education students. Estes and the other three Kansas Representatives voted in favor of the AHCA.

Estes, who will serve on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, asked attendees to stay in touch with him and his staff as issues arise.

The final stop on the Wichita tour was the Levy Special Education Center, which serves 77 special education students ranging from early grade school age to the late teens who need services that cannot be provided in regular education classrooms. Many of the students have physical and intellectual disabilities that require one-to-one, two-to-one and even three-to-one adult/student ratios. Estes toured classrooms and therapy rooms featuring expensive and specialized equipment required by the students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Levy and other Kansas schools receive federal reimbursement for some of those costs through Medicaid.

For more on the visit, including discussion of federal cuts to Title II funding and after school programs, see the June School Board Review.

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