Kansas National Education Association Legislative Candidate Questionnaire, 2014
In a general statement, please tell us why you seek election or re-election to the Kansas Legislature. Please address your beliefs about public education and public school employees. What do you see as the major challenges facing public schools in Kansas? What role do you intend to play in the legislature in terms of addressing those challenges?
Ensuring that we maintain a strong educational system, both K-12 and secondary, is one of the primary things motivating me to run for the Kansas legislature this year. In the Kansas where I grew up, people understood the value of education and were willing to make sacrifices to make sure that their children had a better future. I would not have been able to achieve what I have achieved without the great education provided to me by my fellow Kansans, and I think that future generations should have the same opportunities that I had.
The Kansas of my childhood was conservative, but it was never mean, or ignorant, or selfish, or intolerant, or short-sighted– but those are the values I see driving Kansas government today. But those aren’t Kansas values– the real Kansas values are reason and fairness and equality and compassion– and those are the values I intend to bring to the legislature if I am elected.
The challenges that Kansas schools face include a legislature unwilling to raise enough revenue to fund its constitutional education requirements, and a hostility to organized labor and to science on the part of a vocal minority of state residents. I have a track record as an elected official of working across ideological boundaries to achieve positive change, and I think I have an ability to articulate complex issues in a way that cuts through the spin and misinformation that passes for political dialogue in much of our society today.
My core supporter list includes a local school board member as well as a Kansas Master Teacher, and I would be happy to provide references upon request.
Ensuring Quality Public Schools for All Kansas Children
- KNEA opposes efforts to enact tax and spending limitations such as the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TABOR) or “Taxpayer Empowerment Act” (TEA) on the Kansas State Legislature or local units of government. Such proposals will severely limit the state’s ability to meet the needs of citizens and react to unforeseen circumstances.
Will you oppose efforts to pass tax and spending limitations including TABOR and TEA?
Yes. Any candidate or elected official who announces in advance that he or she will never raise any tax under any circumstances is irresponsible and not fit for public office. A responsible legislator will weigh the benefit of each proposed expenditure and the burden of each source of revenue on businesses and individuals, and find the proper balance between those two things on a case-by-case basis. That is what I intend to do if I am elected to the legislature.
- The 2012 and 2013, the Kansas Legislature enacted bills that dramatically cut income taxes in Kansas. The non-partisan Kansas Legislative Research Department estimates that this will result in a reduction of $2.5 billion or more in tax revenue by 2018. Since Kansas cannot run a deficit, such a drop in revenue would require large offsetting cuts to state services. Education, social services, public safety, and road construction and maintenance would all suffer, degrading the quality of life in Kansas. KNEA believes in a tax system that is balanced among the three primary revenue sources (property, sales, and income taxes), provides sufficient revenue to fund quality state services, and encourages economic development. We believe the legislature must reconsider the action of the 2012 and 2013 sessions and restore stability and balance to the Kansas tax system.
Will you support overhauling the Kansas tax system to restore balance and provide sufficient revenue to restore the funding cuts made necessary by the recession of 2008-11?
Yes. Thanks to Governor Brownback’s tax plan, Kansas now has the most regressive tax system in the country. A few of the most wealthy individuals in the US live in Kansas. Because their income comes from a privately-held company, they now pay no Kansas income taxes– but the people who clean their toilets do, and so do teachers. This is unfair and irrational. I support keeping a progressive state income tax, reinstating the income tax for LLCs and privately-held companies (even though all of my income currently comes from an LLC), and bringing back the state estate tax for estates above the federal estate tax threshold (currently $5,340,000– this would affect approximately one-tenth of 1 percent of Kansas estates each year).
- KNEA opposes private school vouchers or tuition tax credits. Such proposals will divert needed resources from public schools. KNEA believes that every child in Kansas deserves a quality public school.
Will you oppose private school vouchers and tuition tax credits?
Yes. I support public education and I oppose any initiative that would divert resources away from public schools toward non‑inclusive, ideologically driven programs.
- KNEA opposes limitations on the Kansas Court system that would hamper the Courts’ ability to rule on issues of school finance or to issue a remedy in such cases. KNEA believes the Courts are a necessary check on unlimited legislative or executive power and we support their ability to enforce constitutional rights.
Will you oppose constitutional amendments that would limit the ability of the Courts to rule or issue remedies in school finance litigation?
Yes. The ability of the courts to require the legislature to perform its constitutionally-mandated duties is a critical element of the system of checks and balances that is the foundation of our system of government. I oppose any efforts to politicize our judicial system by altering our system of merit appointment of Supreme Court justices.
- Following the Montoy school finance lawsuit, the Kansas legislature appropriated a significant increase in school funding for one year followed by two years of increases keeping pace with inflation. Since then, in reaction to the economic downturn of 2008, the legislature has dramatically cut funding to schools. Additionally, tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 have further eroded the state’s revenue stream making restoration of the cuts impossible. KNEA believes that it is imperative that the state make further progress to fully meeting the needs for school funding AND that the state not revert to a pattern of sub-inflationary annual increases in school funding. KNEA further believes that in a weak economic environment, it is important to, at a minimum, meet inflation to maintain programs.
Will you support funding increases for public education to ensure full implementation of the Post Audit cost study funding levels?
Will you support tax and revenue efforts to restore the cuts made to education as a result of the recession and policies that have reduced revenue available to the state?
- Promises made to post-secondary education in Kansas have been suspended in recent years due to budget constraints and cuts were made to Regents universities in 2013. As a result tuition rates have increased dramatically. Despite this, groups such as Americans for Prosperity have called for large increases in student tuition at public institutions of higher education. KNEA believes that the economic future of Kansas depends on a vibrant public education system from pre-school though graduate school.
What efforts would you support to increase and stabilize post-secondary education funding to ensure that all Kansas residents have access to affordable, high-quality post-secondary education experiences?
Rising tuition levels have made higher education inaccessible to more and more of our children, and many of those who do graduate are left with debt levels that will constrain their opportunities for the rest of their lives. In his recent book, Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty cites research indicating that one of the best ways to slow down the accelerating gap between rich and poor in this country and the erosion of the middle class is to increase funding for higher education. I support reforming our tax system to provide adequate revenue to avoid tuition hikes and to make college and vocational education accessible to more Kansans.
Ensuring the Well-Being of School Employees
7. Kansas teacher salaries are in the bottom 20% in the United States. Beginning and career salaries for teaching lag significantly behind comparable professions in the same geographic markets across the state. Exacerbating the looming teacher shortage in all content areas and grade levels, a large percentage of Kansas teachers are within five years of retirement and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has been in decline.
What initiatives would you support that would make the teaching profession an attractive career option for young people? Please address salaries, benefits, working conditions, and other support systems for school employees.
My mother was a teacher and I still admire her dedication to making the lives of her students better. The same is true for all the teachers that I have had over the years. I admit that I don’t understand how we have gotten to the point where the legislature treats teachers like public enemies. Rather than taking due process rights away from teachers, we should be extending them to more working people. I support raising sufficient revenue to increase teacher salaries, provide for adequate continuing education for teachers, and provide a competitive benefit package. During my time on the Lawrence city commission, I did my best ensure that the city was a good employer, even through difficult budget times, and I think that representatives of the city police and firefighter unions who were there at the time will confirm that. One idea that I explored (but did not accomplish) while on the commission was partnering with the school district and the local housing trust to provide affordable housing for teachers on surplus public land.
8. Research shows that pay plans crafted without employee involvement and agreement are less successful in meeting the desired outcomes. KNEA believes that compensation systems – including any bonuses or incentives – must be subject to local negotiations between the teachers association and the local board of education. KNEA further believes that calls for retention incentives are indicative of the poor state of teacher salaries in general and that the appropriate approach to the recruitment and retention of teachers is first to dramatically increase the salaries of all teachers. KNEA therefore opposes any effort to undermine the collective bargaining of compensation through legislative mandates.
Will you oppose efforts that weaken collective bargaining by legislatively imposing or encouraging bonus or incentive pay?
Yes. I absolutely support the right of public employees and all other workers to form unions and to bargain collectively.
- The long-term viability of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) is of grave concern to all state and school employees. During the 2012 Legislative Session the Unfunded Actuarial Liability of the KPERS was addressed with increased contributions by both the state and system participants. A Tier 3 cash balance plan was enacted in 2013. Future participants in the system will have less of a benefit. As a result of the lack of funding by past legislatures, KPERS retirees have not been given a cost of
living increase. KNEA opposes any further changes to KPERS that would further reduce benefits. KNEA also opposes changing KPERS from a defined benefit to a defined contribution retirement system.
Will you oppose any proposals to reduce benefits to current or future KPERS retirees?
What actions would you support in an attempt to deal with KPERS to allow for a cost of living adjustment for current retirees?
I think the state should honor its contractual obligations just like any citizen is required to do. Traditionally, one of the trade-offs that has come with lower pay for public employment was a good and dependable benefits package, including a good pension plan, and I oppose reducing retirement benefits for public employees or privatizing the state retirement system. As our population ages and as our healthy lifespans increase, we will need to consider raising the age at which employees can begin collecting retirement benefits.
Strengthening the Teaching Profession
10. Kansas has a teacher evaluation system that includes regular assessment of teachers by school administrators, a probationary period of three years during which a teacher’s contract can be non-renewed, a rigorous performance assessment. Until this year, a due process provision for veteran teachers that protected them from arbitrary and capricious actions was part of the process. The 2014 Legislature stripped teachers of due process protections. KNEA believes that the system, including due process protections, was both
rigorous and effective. KNEA has also been an active participant in the development of the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP) which when fully implemented will include student growth as a significant evaluation factor. KNEA supports efforts to increase support for beginning teachers through teacher mentoring programs and for veteran teachers through peer assistance programs. KNEA strongly opposed changes to the system that eliminated an employee’s due process rights.
Will you support efforts to restore the teacher due process provisions in Kansas law and oppose efforts to circumvent the implementation of KEEP?
11. KNEA believes that the voice of the classroom teacher is critical to meeting the learning needs of students. Experienced teachers have great expertise to share when it comes to ensuring that the working conditions of teachers and the learning conditions of students are optimized. Collective bargaining in Kansas has guaranteed that Kansas teachers have a strong voice in school efforts to improve teaching and learning.
Will you support collective bargaining for teachers and oppose efforts
to weaken the voice of teachers in our schools?
12. KNEA supports efforts to guide novice teachers through their first years of teaching and to assist veteran teachers in improving their practice.
Please comment on the role of the state in supporting teacher evaluation, teacher mentoring and peer assistance.
This is an issue which I need to learn more about, but it seems reasonable to for the state to fund mentoring support for novice teachers– as a law school graduate I know that our professional schools don’t provide graduates all the practical, nuts & bolts skills they need to function well in the real world, and I expect that mentoring in the first few years after graduation would dramatically improve the performance of new teachers. Ongoing investment in employee training and education is critical for the success of any organization.
13. KNEA believes that the art of teaching is more than simply knowing one’s content. While content knowledge is critical to success in the classroom it is also important for teachers to understand the needs of special education students. at-risk students, and English language learners. Child development, motivating learners. classroom management. and interacting with parents are all necessary to successful practice. KNEA opposes efforts to weaken or loosen teacher licensure standards for entry into the profession.
Will you oppose efforts to weaken professional licensing standards and give access to public school classrooms to persons without the necessary pedagogical training?