Candidates at Shawnee Mission PTA forum support increased funding for education

Candidates for state office in Northeast Johnson County attended a forum Saturday hosted by the SME PTA
Candidates for state office in northeast Johnson County attended a forum Saturday hosted by the SM East PTSA.

Candidates attending a forum Saturday at SM East roundly criticized state tax cuts enacted in 2012 and voiced strong support for increased funding for education.

“I do believe school funding has gone down significantly,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton. “One of the main problems was the 2012 tax cuts. It’s a crazy experiment that’s gone terrible wrong and plunged us into financial despair.”

[pullquote]

SM East PTSA Candidate Forum

• Wide agreement among the candidates about need to revisit tax policy and increasing education funding
• State board of education candidates disagree about whether state should let unlicensed teachers into the classroom
• Libertarian candidate was only participant to support concealed carry on college campuses

[/pullquote]Clayton, the District 19 incumbent, was among the 10 candidates in northeast Johnson County who attended the forum organized by the SM East PTSA. They are competing in legislative races and for the State Board of Education.

The candidates all supported more funding for education and the State Supreme Court’s role in forcing the legislature to come up with a better funding formula.

“I think we all want change…we want positive results for our public schools,” said Dorothy Hughes, Republican candidate for 21st House District.

Most echoed Clayton in pinning the decline in funding to the state’s economic woes, linking those problems to tax cuts introduced by Gov. Sam Brownback and enacted by the Legislature early in his term.

“If we don’t address the economic problems in Kansas, we can never address the educational problems in Kansas,” said Jerry Stogsdill, a Democrat running for the District 21 House seat.

Clayton said the defeat of several conservative allies of Brownback in the primary signals a new attitude at the legislature during the upcoming session.

“I think we’re going to see a new day in Kansas starting with the second day when we gavel in,” she said. “We’re going to start to pull ourselves out of that hole.”

The State Supreme Court and its role in pushing the legislature to meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for students also was endorsed several times during the discussion.

“The State Supreme Court has done a wonderful job for Kansas the last couple of years by doing their job and saying this is wrong and this is right,” Stogsdill said.

The discussion was moderated by Kyle Palmer of KCUR public radio, who asked random questions submitted in advance and by members of the audience. About 30 people attended.

For the most part, there was little disagreement between the candidates. The sharpest difference was over a new law that will allow concealed weapons on college campuses beginning next summer.

Candidates for the 21st House race were asked about the new gun law.

“I’m hearing overwhelmingly at forums and through letters that my constituents don’t want this,” said Clayton. “I will push for repealing, delaying or altering this.”

Elizabeth Meitl, the Democratic candidate, is a college professor.

“I can’t tell you the fear this law has caused,” Meitl said. “It’s created a culture about violence on our campus… Students talk about their fear of guns all the time.”

But John Taube, the Libertarian candidate, disagreed.

“I believe guns are safe and gun-free zones create victims,” he said. “Most mass shootings occur in gun-free zones.”

Steve Roberts, the incumbent state board of education member, suggested that people with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and medicine) be allowed to teach those subjects in high schools without a teaching certificate. He said it would help relieve a teacher shortage in those fields.

“Do you have to go to a teacher’s college to be a (STEM) teacher? Not in every case,” Roberts said.

His challenger, Chris Cindric, responded, “Hiring unlicensed teachers not qualified to go in a classroom is a short term remedy.”

The other candidates at the event were: Megan England, Democrat, running for District 7 Senate; Sen. Barbara Bollier, District 7, and Rep. Melissa Rooker, District 25.

Mary Sinclair, SM East PTSA legislative chair, was pleased with the event, which her organization is making available on YouTube.

“I’m excited about the caliber of candidates in northeast Johnson County who are well informed about education,” she said. “I think it was a very informative session.”