2020 candidate forum: Kansas State Board of Education District 2

Melanie Haas (above), the Democratic candidate for the District 2 seat on the Kansas State Board of Education, faces Republican candidate Benjamin Hodge in the November general election.

Subjects dominating the conversation across the United States in 2020 — namely, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools, as well as the role of education as the country grapples with its racist history — drove much of the recent conversation between the Shawnee Mission Post and Melanie Haas, the Democratic candidate pursuing the open District 2 seat on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Haas faces Republican Benjamin Hodge in the November general election for the District 2 seat. Haas participated by herself in the candidate forum Wednesday evening. Hodge did not respond to the Post’s repeated requests to participate, nor our direct invitations to join the forum.

Below is the list of questions posed by the Post staff and our readers, including timestamps. The video of the forum can be viewed on the Post’s Facebook page and is also embedded below.

  1. The debate over whether and how to allow in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated discussion this school year. Most districts in Johnson County began in some form of hybrid learning. Shawnee Mission Schools was the only local district to start the academic year with all its students learning remotely. What factors should school districts be prioritizing when making decisions about bringing students back to the classroom? 3:48
  2. For the board of education, the effects of the pandemic and its effects on schools will certainly last after Nov. 3, so when you potentially could be on the board of education, what is the board’s role in terms of advising and guiding school districts during this time? 5:39
  3. Johnson County has seen the number of economically disadvantaged students enrolled in public schools significantly increase over the past 20 years. What can the state board do to support districts that are seeing their demographics shift in such a way? 6:32
  4. In the ongoing social justice movement that continues to roil this country in the wake of the police killing of Black people, the role of education has come up. Critics say American schoolchildren are not taught enough about topics like slavery, Jim Crow, the subjugation of Native Americans. Describe the proper role of the State Board of Education in setting curriculum standards for the state’s schools. Is there a need for the curriculum to be more reflective and inclusive of groups that have been historically marginalized, and how would the board go about advising districts on that? 7:14
  5. (From a reader) Do you consider yourself a supporter of public schools? Are your own children, if you have any, enrolled in public schools, and how did you make that decision on where to enroll them? 8:58
  6. (From a reader) The world that your children and other Kansas public school students will graduate into in the coming years and decades is likely to be very different than the world it is today or the world as it was when you and I were growing up. How can the State Board of Education help Kansas students be better prepared to find success in the workplace after they graduate? 9:56
  7. The State Board of Education has in the past debated whether it’s appropriate to teach the concept of intelligent design alongside the scientific theory of evolution. What are your views on what should and should not be taught to Kansas students in this particular regard? 11:06
  8. (From a reader) In this time, when state budgets will be tight, how can the State Board of Education be innovative in its development of curriculum and assessments so that the burden on public schoolteachers will not be too onerous? 11:38
  9. (Inspired by a reader) What measures can the board of education initiate to recruit and retain more teachers of color for Kansas schools? 12:48
  10. (From a reader) What is your opinion on tax money going to private schools like the current program that allows individuals and companies to receive tax credits for contributions to scholarships that ultimately go to private school students? 14:04
  11. Members of the Kansas State Board of Education are elected to four-year terms. What do you foresee being the biggest challenge for the state’s public school systems over the next four years, and how can the board help meet that challenge? 14:47