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Educating voters on education

9/2/2014

Even before the gubernatorial election campaign kicks off in earnest at the Kansas State Fair debate Saturday, the issue of K-12 education appears to be clear or at least outlined well enough by both Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Democrat House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Lawrence, to put to bed.

Even before the gubernatorial election campaign kicks off in earnest at the Kansas State Fair debate Saturday, the issue of K-12 education appears to be clear or at least outlined well enough by both Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Democrat House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Lawrence, to put to bed.

If K-12 education is the sole issue for a gubernatorial vote -- and there are teachers, parents, grandparents and property taxpayers out there who make their decisions based on education -- it's about over.

That leaves a lot of issues out there for the campaign, but practically, we know where the school issue stands between the candidates.

Brownback, who except for claiming KPERS payments for schoolteachers as state aid to education, isn't looking to spend any new money on K-12, and Davis said he would like to spend more, but there isn't any more to spend after Brownback's tax cuts.

If there's a Davis position, it is once there is enough money to run the state, he wants to restore the Base State Aid per Pupil to $4,492 from the current $3,852.

Brownback in the third stanza of his re-election Roadmap 2.0 campaign plan specifically doesn't talk about money for K-12 education. It's all programs that can be financed largely with existing money. Davis isn't talking money, either, because there really isn't any new money to spend.

But just because the main party candidates appear to have staked out their ground, there are some interesting facets of the elementary/secondary education debate that are worth noting.

Brownback, for example, chooses his crowd when talking about this year's K-12 funding/policy legislation. Because he doesn't draw a lot of schoolteachers to his political events -- except occasionally to protest while wearing those red T-shirts -- he often mentions this year's school finance bill included more than $70 million in property tax breaks for some districts' taxpayers.

Davis actually hasn't done a lot of large-format speeches yet, but he voted against the school finance bill Brownback signed because of policy issues -- like the end of due process in tenure hearings for teachers and a $10 million tax credit for aid to non-public schools. Davis had some other ideas to put money in the classrooms, but along with fellow Democrats and moderate Republicans, never got much of a chance to push them.

So, practically, Brownback can say Davis voted against financing schools, and Davis can say Brownback wouldn't support schools with funding levels Davis and most educators believe is necessary. And by now we all can hum along with both candidates' heartfelt exhortations that schoolchildren are the keys to the state's economic success.

What's left on the education issue? Talk. Lots of talk, and depending on what you want to hear, either candidate can make the sale.

But the basics are there from both gubernatorial campaigns. It's work on nearly costless programs and cooperative agreements between businesses and schools and such, or try to scrounge up the money to expand programs, maybe pay schoolteachers more and spend more money in the classrooms on stuff that might make the kids smarter.

And, there is of course, the property tax bill, which picks up a significant percentage of the cost of educating your or your neighbor's kids.

So, if you just vote based on elementary and secondary education, or the state/local policies that regulate it, you probably can decide now whose sign you want in your yard.

But if you're one of those voters who weighs a bunch of issues, at least you have a start, and barring something dramatic, you can shift your focus to Medicaid expansion, care of the elderly or sick or the poor, medical marijuana, the death penalty, or whatever other brochures show up in your mailbox in the next two months.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. LLC of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report.

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