Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. This week we’re scheduled to get updates from Rep. Cindy Holscher, Rep. Rui Xu and Sen. John Skubal. Rep. Holscher’s column is below.
Every year on the House floor, the Kansas Teacher of the Year winners are recognized for their outstanding work. As an ardent public school supporter, normally I will take pictures of the “ceremony,” and post on social media. But this year I decided I wasn’t going to do that. Not because I don’t appreciate and respect our teachers – in fact, quite the opposite as I hold our teachers in the highest regard. (In fact, ensuring our schools are adequately funded and teachers paid fairly was one of the main reasons why I ran for office). Here is the reason I skipped posting the pictures this year: nearly every Representative who was part of the ceremony of introducing and presenting these phenomenal teachers has worked to DEFUND our public schools. It felt like these particular legislators were taking advantage of the situation for photo ops to show “support” for our schools.
Throughout this Legislative session, many of these extremist Legislators have continued their work to defund public schools. As one local public school advocacy group recently posted, it’s been “voucher palooza” in Topeka. Given names like “The Kansas Reading Readiness Act” or “the Kansas Student Improvement Act,” these bills (and at least two others in the House) sound innocuous or possibly even helpful to our students. However, they all have the same end game: divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to private, which is explicitly against our constitution. While our local school districts are struggling to balance budgets and fulfill the needs of students as well as teachers and staff, we have Legislators actively working to make things even more difficult for them.
On weekends I often attend Legislative coffees or meetings, even if I am not a participant. When talking about school funding, I am often surprised by the number of people who have no idea how their state Senator/Representative votes. Others follow their electeds more closely, and find that sometimes their Legislators seem to indicate support for schools publicly in forums, but then operate differently in Topeka. Recently, one attendee told me she was really impressed with the answers her Legislator gave, but knew they were “lip service” because of the way that particular person votes in the Capitol.
In Johnson County, the area that boasts some of the best public schools in the nation, one would expect that nearly all our Legislators are doing what they can to ensure the “economic engine” of the area is adequately funded. But that just isn’t the case. In looking at endorsements and recommendations by education advocacy groups (Mainstream Coalition, Game On for Kansas Schools, Stand Up Blue Valley, Education First Shawnee Mission) from the most recent elections here is what you will find:
- There are a total of 9 Senators who cover parts of Johnson County; of those 9, only 4 were endorsed or viewed as “Education Friendly” by education advocacy groups in the 2016 election (one Senator is newly appointed so there is no data on that individual)
- There are a total of 25 State Representatives that cover portions of Johnson County; of those, 13 were endorsed or viewed as “Education Friendly” by education advocacy groups in the 2018 election (State Reps have two year terms whereas State Senators serve four year terms)
So, barely half are public education supporters – and that’s in Johnson County – the area that is deemed pro public schools. Those of us who vote for our schools and teachers are waging a battle in Topeka to reach and sustain adequate funding. In a time when there is so much work that needs to be done on rebuilding our schools and our state, our focus ends up being directed at stopping those who appear to want to tear it all down.
If you really do appreciate teachers – and care about the future of your kids – vote for candidates who support our schools through their votes in Topeka, not photo ops. In addition to that, talk to your friends and neighbors about the importance of voting and being informed about candidates. We are all busy and don’t have time to do the research, so fortunately, a lot of the hard work is done for us through nearly any of the nonpartisan public school advocacy organizations mentioned above. In the mean time, my sincere congratulations to our Teacher of the Year Team: Tabatha Rospray (Winfield), Kara Belew (Andover), Amy Hellman (Olathe), Shawn Hornung (Wamego), Stefanie Lane (Clay County), Julie Loevenstein (Basehor-Linwood), Lara McDonald (Auburn-Washburn) and Melissa Molteni (Shawnee Mission). As an additional way to honor you, I will keep voting in favor of our excellent public schools and YOU, along with all our dynamic teachers.