Chanting “save our schools” and carrying signs with such messages as “Keep the doors open, fund our public schools,” several hundred public school supporters rallied at the Kansas statehouse on Monday.
They gathered on the Capitol steps after marching a few blocks from Topeka High School, the culmination of a walk to Topeka organized by an advocacy group, Game On for Kansas Schools. Some participants walked 60 miles.
“Make no mistake about it, public education is under attack in Kansas,” Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican and a moderate, told the crowd, which included parents and teachers.
Lawmakers are considering a number of bills that have drawn opposition from district officials and school supporters. Legislators say their purpose is cost savings and creating budget certainty, but some fear loss of local control.
Judith Deedy, Game On’s executive director, made reference to all the legislative activity relating to school matters, telling the crowd that this is an election year when legislators could be expected to be on their good behavior.
“That scares me,” she said, “and I hope it scares you.”
Sally Murguia of Kansas City, Kan., who has a daughter at Sumner Academy, said she came to the Capitol to voice her concern to legislators.
“There’s been a plethora of initiatives that threaten the ability of public schools to do their jobs,” she said.
Her worries are not just for the Kansas City, Kan., district, she said, but for schools across the state.
“It’s in the enlightened interest of the state to have kids coming out of schools with a good education and ready to work,” Murguia said.
The rally took on political tones, with Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka encouraging participants to not only talk to their legislators Monday but to vote in the 2016 elections. All Kansas senators and representatives are up for election this year.
Kelly said the loss of so many moderate Republicans in the 2012 election took its toll on support for public schools.
“I want my moderate friends back,” the Democrat said.
Cindy Holscher of Overland Park, a rally participant, is a Democrat running against Rep. Amanda Grosserode, a Lenexa Republican and chair of the House Education Budget Committee.
Holscher has three children in Olathe schools and said she’s seen firsthand the effects of legislative policies.
“Ultimately it impacts the kids because class sizes are getting bigger,” she said. “We’re here to get it turned around.”
On Monday afternoon, the House Education Committee approved a controversial bill that would repeal a statute guaranteeing community college teachers an administrative due-process hearing before they can be terminated.
The due-process protection applies to faculty members entering their fourth year. Two years ago the Legislature repealed the due-process requirement for K-12 teachers.
Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and committee chairman, said the bill eliminates the state’s due-process mandate but doesn’t prohibit community colleges from keeping the system.
“If they want to continue it, that’s their prerogative,” he said.
Other schools measures in the works include a bill that would reduce state aid to school districts that have kept reserve funds of more than 15 percent, a plan that would require districts to make some purchases through the state Department of Administration and a proposal that would require some districts to seek approval of construction bond projects from a state board or joint legislative committee.
Critics have called the measures a threat to local control of schools, including the bond review board. But Highland said a review committee is needed because the Legislature gets blindsided every year by the cost of school bond projects that receive state aid.
Legislators this week also are scheduled to discuss options to remedy a state Supreme Court order threatening to shut down public schools. The Legislature must approve a plan to equalize funding among school districts by June 30, the court said, or public schools won’t open for the 2016-17 school year.