How Kansas distributes its education funding will be the “key, key debate” when the legislature returns to work this fall, Gov. Sam Brownback told a sympathetic audience of local conservatives Tuesday.
Brownback told a meeting of the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives that Kansas already spends 51 percent of its budget, about $4 billion, on K-12 education, the third highest percentage in the country.
“The big piece is we need to decide how that money is going to be distributed and what way we can do it to create more innovation, more opportunity and better educational results for our kids,” he said.
Brownback praised Johnson County schools as a leader in K-12 education and renewed his support for local school districts to be allowed to raise funding beyond what is received by the state.
Jim Hinson, superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, has been pushing for districts to have greater freedom to raise additional money.
“I agree,” the governor said. “That’s something we allowed in the formula that the Supreme Court threw out.
“I think Jim has some good ideas and I think he and other people in Johnson County will be deeply involved in rewriting the new system.”
Brownback told the 70 people that packed the small banquet room at O’Neill’s Restaurant the state’s current educational funding system dates to the 1990s and needs a fresh look.
“Every four or five years we really should do a full review,” he said. “Don’t get locked into a debate about the number, talk about how we use the money to have a better educational system. How do we get more money into the classroom?”
Brownback recently invited people to submit ideas for how the state should revise its education funding system. The State School Board Association has responded and an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) also has been established to solicit additional ideas.
“It’s easy to talk about generically, it’s difficult when you have to really write something down,” Brownback said.
“We are getting people to send in legitimate ideas. What we have to do then is pull those together and get them to the Legislature.”
It was a friendly crowd and the governor spoke informally to the group wearing blue jeans, a cowboy belt and buckle, and plaid shirt. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer also was on hand.
At points, Brownback, who’s been besieged with sagging poll numbers and setbacks in maintaining his majority in the legislature, expressed appreciation for his core conservative allies.
“My unfavorables aren’t good, but you guys stayed with me and you pushed. This is our guy and he stands up for what I believe in.”
He told a story about how Mother Theresa of Calcutta, recently named a saint, was spit on when asking for alms. She accepted the insult and asked again for a donation, which she received.
“What a great example of fighting through when you just don’t want to anymore,” Brownback told the group.
“It is for the future, it is for the kids, it is for what we stand for, it is important. You’re going to have to convince other people around you it’s important.”
Mike Jones, president of the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives, appreciated the governor making the trip to O’Neill’s.
“It provides the governor an opportunity to get feedback from both sides of the issue,” he said. “Nobody is happy with what’s going on in Kansas, but it’s an opportunity for voters to have the governor’s ear.”