Kansas governor seeks to regain control of education debate

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) – Kansas’ Democratic governor is trying to regain control of the education debate in a tough re-election race, trying to regain his favorite focus on public school spending hikes during his tenure after Republican attacks against transgender athletes and what is taught in classrooms,

Governor Laura Kelly on Wednesday sought to cast Republican challenger Derek Schmidt, the state’s three-term attorney general, as a threat to adequate funding for public schools in their second and final debate. Kelly ran as “the governor of education” for her support for increased education spending.

But Schmidt emphasized what he calls parental rights, or the ability for parents to challenge school materials and seek to remove books they find objectionable from libraries, a key issue. Schmidt’s approach recalls a strategy that helped Republican Glenn Youngkin win over suburban parents and triumph in the 2021 race for governor in normally blue Virginia. He also hammers Holder, saying Kelly allowed students to be “barred from schools” for months during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly, a national GOP target, takes credit for Kansas increasing spending on K-12 schools enough to satisfy multiple state Supreme Court rulings in a lawsuit filed against the state in 2010. Schmidt said that as governor he would make sure the state continued to spend enough money, but as attorney general he defended old Republican state funding laws. schools that the court has declared insufficient under the Kansas Constitution.

“You know, I have a hard time being lectured by you about public schools,” Kelly told Schmidt during their debate in suburban Kansas City, sponsored by the local bar association.

Kelly tried to link Schmidt to former GOP Governor Sam Brownback, who launched a notorious nationwide experiment in cutting state income taxes in 2012-13, followed by large and persistent budget deficits . Most of the experiment was repealed in 2017, and state finances have improved significantly since then.

Schmidt mocked Kelly’s attempt to portray him as a Brownback clone, saying, “The Governor has an unhealthy obsession with his predecessor.”

In wide debate, Schmidt also softened his previous opposition to the legalization of medical marijuana, saying broad public support would lead him to back a narrow legalization law. Kelly supports medical marijuana.

Schmidt, who backed a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution that voters decisively rejected in August, challenged Kelly to name a restriction she would support. She didn’t, saying only, “Women should have bodily autonomy equal to that of men.

But education and school funding are significant issues, especially in vote-rich Kansas City suburbs that have used strong public schools to fuel economic and population growth.

The Republican Governors Association has tried to undermine Kelly’s appeal in the middle with TV ads attacking him for vetoing two proposals to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and colleges’ school and college sports teams. women. Kelly then ran an ad in which she said she didn’t support men playing the girl type, leading Republicans to charge that she was lying about her record. She repeated that statement on Wednesday, saying sports bodies can handle such cases.

Schmidt also criticized Kelly’s for closing school buildings in the last two months of the 2019-20 school year to control the spread of COVID-19. He also attacked his veto of a proposed “parents’ bill of rights” that would have made it easier for parents to challenge school materials and seek to remove books they find objectionable from libraries, such as novels on the LGBTQ theme.

Schmidt promised to sign such a measure and restrictions on transgender athletes within 100 days of taking office. “We can have a state that strongly supports public education — and puts parents and students first,” Schmidt said in his closing remarks.

Teachers, education groups and Democrats argue that parents can already object to school supplies and library books. And Kelly’s allies held a press conference last week in Topeka to change the conversation by questioning Schmidt’s record on school funding.

When Brownback was governor, basic state aid per student to local schools remained nearly flat for five years, starting in 2012-13, even as his total spending increased slightly to cover other expenses, including teachers’ pensions. Under Kelly, spending grew almost twice as fast as under his Republican predecessors.

Spending increases before Kelly took office in January 2019 were forced by Kansas Supreme Court rulings — with the court repeatedly rejecting arguments from Schmidt’s office that lawmakers were doing enough to fulfill their obligation under the state constitution to fund an appropriate education for every child.

“Everyone remembers what the state looked like four years ago,” Kelly said.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

John Hanna, l’Associated Press

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