Merriam mom walks to Topeka to protest school cuts

A Merriam mother who says she is fed up with state cuts to education put her feet down this weekend and walked 60 miles from her home to Topeka.

Heather Ousley, a 35-year-old mother of three, started walking Saturday morning and arrived in the state capital Monday night. A member of

Game On for Kansas Schools

, Ousley used Facebook and Twitter during her three-day hike to gain support from teachers and other parents, some of whom joined her for short distances on the route.

Ousley, who some Shawnee Mission schoolteachers described as an active and outspoken parent in the district, said shrinking state support threatens her children’s educational future.

“I’d walk to the ends of the earth for my kids. In the grand scheme of things, Topeka ain’t that far,” Ousley wrote in a blog post this weekend.

“I walk to raise awareness. I walk for my kids. I walk for our teachers. I walk for our schools. … This is how I do March Madness. I’m Mad. It’s March. I’ll march.”

Ousley drove home to Merriam on Monday night.Today, she will drive back to Topeka, where she expects to join members of the Kansas National Education Association from the Shawnee Mission district to talk with lawmakers about cuts to education, a push to privatize public education and other legislative proposals. She also is concerned about a bill that would change the rules on teachers’ collective bargaining and another that would amend the state constitution to bar courts from ruling on public school funding.

“I think that it is a great thing that she is doing. We appreciate her efforts,” Mark Desetti, a spokesman for KNEA, said of Ousley.

Lawmakers are struggling to fill a $500 million hole in the state budget after tax cuts were enacted last year. The state is appealing a January ruling by a three-judge panel to increase funding to school districts. The court ruled that the current level violates the state constitution by failing to provide suitable financing for education.

That prompted an ongoing battle to amend the constitution to put such matters beyond the reach of the courts. Legislators who support the change say that policy matters such as school funding should be left to elected officials.