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2014 Kansas legislative session: Politics-as-usual or substantive action?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

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2014 legislative session: Politics-as-usual or substantive action?

By James Franko

Many politicians prefer to avoid controversial issues in an election year, so with the Kansas House of Representatives, governor, and other state-wide officers facing voters next year, conventional wisdom would predict the 2014 legislative session to be a yawner.

But, that thinking flies in the face of results from SurveyUSA poll conducted last week for KPI (cross-tabs included at the link). On issue after issue, Kansans seem unhappy with the status quo and may even welcome substantive debate on the biggest challenges facing our state. Far from an endorsement of a politician or political party, our reading suggests that Kansans want to be treated as responsible, intelligent adults. Adults who understand that our state faces challenges and what’s been done thus far hasn’t gotten the job done.

If the State Supreme Court orders  another large school funding increase, 67 percent of Kansans want to re-allocate current state spending or spend existing education dollars more efficiently to comply with a ruling for more education cash. Just over one in four Kansans (27 percent) want to see that potential ruling be paid for with higher taxes. Those findings hold across self-identified liberals, Democrats, moderates, conservatives, etc.

Further on education, a majority of Kansans (53 percent) support allowing certain students (i.e., low income, special needs) the ability use public dollars to find the right educational fit outside of the traditional public school and only 30 percent are opposed. A plurality support (40 percent support v. 31 percent opposed) a full voucher system. Public charter schools (schools that trade fewer regulations for higher achievement standards) are popular with Kansans to the tune of three to one.

That desire for more parental and student choice in K through 12 is based on the fact that only 36 percent of those polled think student achievement in on the right track. So, despite being told that all is well by media and special interests, citizens seem to realize that things aren’t hunky-dory. Kansans seem to understand that despite countless dedicated teachers and a 32 percent increase in inflation-adjusted K through 12 spending since 1998, many kids are not being served and equipped to succeed.

Folks also want local and state officials to stay in charge of education standards and believe that locals are better able to determine who is suited to teach their children than someone in Washington.

– 80 percent believe curriculum standards should be set by local districts or KSDE.
– 90 percent want teacher certification decisions to be made by their local districts or the legislature.

Lastly, Kansans apparently don’t like their tax dollars being used to sue them for more money or to lobby in Topeka.

– 70 percent of Kansans believe cities, counties and school districts should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to lobby.
– 71 percent of Kansans believe school districts should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to sue for more money.

Maybe voters don’t want to be pandered to and realize that our state faces real challenges. Politician hopes of a quite year may amount to little with Gannon’s potential $800 million price tag hanging over the citizens’ heads.

“The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted,” is most-often attributed to Winston Churchill and maybe, just maybe, our elected leaders in Topeka will be proactive and buck Sir Winston’s truism.