GOP Gov Outlines Second Term Education Plan

By John Celock

With education becoming one of the dominant issues in the Kansas governor’s race, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has outlined his plans on the issue as he seeks a second term.

Brownback released the plan, which is centered in using education for economic development and expanding kindergarten, along with growing job training programs, on Monday. The Brownback plan comes as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis continues to attack the Republican’s education record, with the state’s largest teachers union, the Kansas National Education Association taking an active role in Davis’ campaign. Brownback has been releasing parts of his second term agenda on a weekly basis since the state’s primary earlier this month. The latest polls have Davis leading Brownback.

“Every Kansas child should have access to a quality education that not only meets their individual needs but also embraces their specific talents and interests,” Brownback’s website reads. “The key to providing an education that is relevant to every child is collaboration, innovation, and local control.”

The full Brownback plan can be found here.

Brownback and Democrats have been at war on the education issues, with Democrats, along with moderate Republicans arguing that the governor and his legislative allies have cut education funding in the state. Brownback and his allies have argued that they have increased education funding over the cuts made by former Govs. Kathleen Sebelius (D) and Mark Parkinson (D). Brownback has also been at war with the KNEA over a new state law ending teacher tenure protections in the state. The law was enacted as part of a new state education funding bill earlier this year in response to a state Supreme Court ruling on education funding.

In his second term plan, Brownback centers in on the kindergarten initiative that he has championed this year. Among the proposals he has to improve kindergarten readiness is for community, faith and school based early learning programs and the creation of stable family environments, along with voluntary full day kindergarten for “at-risk populations.”

In the plan, Brownback is proposing that by the end of his second term that 85 percent of high school graduates in the state either enrolled in college, holding a technical certificate or in the military. He is also stressing increased funding for rural school districts and not combining rural districts.

Brownback is also following in the footsteps of other Republican governors nationally, by proposing to allow local school administrators to award performance based bonuses to teachers.

In the area of higher education and the sciences, Brownback is stressing the creation of a STEM advisory council to promote science, technology, math and engineering education in state schools. He is also proposing increased collaboration between the state’s higher education sector and business community to promote job creation. Brownback called for increased retention and graduation rates at the state’s colleges, along with increased private donations and federal research grants.

The higher education and business collaboration has been of increased importance in Kansas. Officials at Kansas State University’s campus in Salina have stressed the need for faculty to work closely with industry, including the areas of engineering, unmanned aviation systems and aviation. In July, the campus broke ground on a new Bulk Solids Innovation Center, where university, political and local business leaders touted the economic impact of the program.

KNEA communications director Marcus Lee took to Twitter to oppose the Brownback plan today, saying that Brownback has attacked education. He said that Brownback had not focused on the subject until after the court ruling. He also criticized the STEM panel proposal, noting an existing panel of “licensed & trained teachers” is already in place. Brownback did not specify who would serve on his proposed panel.

Davis and his allies have been stressing education policy during his campaign. The Wichita Eagle reported that Davis used a Democratic Party rally in Wichita on Saturday to call for the restoration of state education aid to pre-recession levels and to describe himself as a “champion for education.” The Eagle reported that Davis was surrounded by KNEA members wearing the union’s signature red shirts during the rally.

KNEA members and their labor allies have been swarming events with the red shirts for months, following having red shirt clad union members sitting in the gallery of the state Legislature during the vote on the education funding and tenure reform bill earlier this year. KNEA members wearing the red shirts have been picketing Brownback campaign rallies since, including one last month with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) in Wichita.

Brownback used the second term proposal to promote his first term record, saying that he has increased state aid to schools by $270 million in the last four years, provided for a 2.3 percent increase in teacher salaries and increased the amount of teachers in the state. Conservative Republican lawmakers have defended their education record, citing the increased education aid.

Moderate Republicans, many of whom have backed Davis, have fought the Brownback education record. Former state Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), who was defeated by a conservative in the 2012 GOP primary and has endorsed Davis, told The Celock Report last week during the National Conference of State Legislatures convention in Minneapolis that Brownback has not increased education spending. He said that Brownback is talking about increased funding for teacher pensions.

“He is talking about other increases and what he is talking about are in KPERS,” Morris said.

Conservative Republicans have argued that the funds are for education and not the pension system. They have also noted that it is up to local school districts on how to implement the funding.