What does the election mean for Kansas public schools?Scott Rothschild
Now with the 2018 election over what can education advocates expect from a new governor, changes in the state Legislature and a transfer of control in the U.S. House?
In declaring victory Tuesday in the Kansas gubernatorial race, Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly vowed that public schools would be her No. 1 priority.
“When I said on the campaign trail that I’m running to be the Education Governor, I meant it,” said Kelly, a longtime supporter for increased school funding and early education.
“Public schools are the backbone of our communities,” she said, adding, “Our school teachers take on the most honorable of missions — educating our kids. So let me be clear, we will no longer settle for simply doing the minimum. We will truly invest in our children’s future.”
The positions of Kelly and her running mate, Lt. Gov.-elect Lynn Rogers, a former longtime Wichita USD 259 school board member, are much more aligned with KASB positions than her opponent, Republican Kris Kobach. But the new administration will face a more conservative Legislature, probably more aligned with Kobach’s education positions, when the 2019 session starts in January.
Approximately a half-dozen moderate Republicans were defeated in the GOP primary in August and that means the moderate-Democratic coalition that held a slim majority in the House for the past two years has now been replaced by a more conservative Republican majority, although there is often movement between the various political camps in the GOP caucus. Barring changes in final vote counts, the House has gone from 85 Republicans and 40 Democrats to 86 Republicans and 39 Democrats.
In addition, several key education advocates lost their re-election attempts on Tuesday, including state Reps. Melissa Rooker, a Republican who helped craft the new school finance formula, and Ed Trimmer, a Democrat, who served as the ranking minority member of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee.
Changes in the House may make it more difficult to pass the inflation adjustment for school funding called for by the Kansas Supreme Court and supported by Kelly.
Kelly has also said she wants to phase down the sales tax on food, but the Republican-dominated Legislature may have different ideas on proposed tax cuts. And while a proposed constitutional amendment on school finance, which Kelly opposes, doesn’t seem to have enough support to get the required two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, the issue could always come up and school advocates need to remain vigilant on this and other issues.
The more conservative House GOP caucus could result in some leadership changes and that could influence other policy issues that will be debated, such as expanding Medicaid, restoring cuts to higher education, a new transportation plan, and budget help for social services and public safety.
Many of the budgetary decisions will depend on how much state revenue is available and that projected amount will be determined Friday when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group announces its new revenue forecasts.
The election of Kelly and Rogers, in addition to state Sen. Vickie Schmidt, R-Topeka, who was elected state insurance commissioner, creates vacancies in the Senate that will be decided by party precinct committee officials. In the House, Speaker Pro Tem Scott Schwab was elected secretary of state, creating a vacancy for both his seat and leadership position. In the remaining statewide race, Attorney General Derek Schmidt easily won re-election.
New members are headed to the State Board of Education but they are not expected to change the board’s direction nor its commitment to the Kansans Can school redesign program. Ben Jones of Sterling replaces Ken Willard, who did not seek re-election; Michelle Dombrosky of Olathe replaces John Bacon, who didn’t seek re-election; Janet Waugh of Kansas City won re-election and Jean Clifford, Garden City school board member, replaces Sally Cauble, who did not seek re-election. Chairman Jim Porter was re-elected without opposition.
In federal races, newcomers Democrat Sharice Davids defeated U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder for the Kansas 3rd District and Republican Steve Watkins won a close race over Paul Davis for the 2nd District position vacated by the retiring Lynn Jenkins. Reps. Roger Marshall and Ron Estes, both Republicans, won re-election.
On the national scene, as Democrats take back control of the U.S. House, they will probably push back against President Trump policies in education, such as school choice (House Education Chair Virginia Foxx, a leading school choice advocate, will be replaced by a Democrat; probably Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia) and make life less pleasant for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But with control only of the House, it will be difficult for the Democrats to pass new initiatives. The result will likely be relatively little change at the federal level for two years.