Both candidates for a Northland state Senate seat are touting their backgrounds in education ahead of Tuesday’s special election.
The race for the state’s 17th Senate District in Clay County pits Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, a former member of the North Kansas City school board, and Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, a former teacher.
The vote to replace former Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey, who is now a member of the state’s Public Service Commission, will take place one week after former Gov. Eric Greitens announced his resignation after a months-long scandal that dominated the most recent legislative session.
Corlew, an attorney who has served in the House since 2015, said in an interview just hours before Greitens announced his resignation that the controversy surrounding the Republican governor was not the primary question he faced as he knocked on voters’ doors in recent weeks.
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“It’s in the background. I mean people know about it, but ultimately what impacts people’s lives is 'Are we going to do well with schools, are we going to have better infrastructure,' ” Corlew said.
“People move to the Northland because of our good schools.”
He noted that he supported a raise for teachers as a member of the school board and has supported full funding of the educational formula as a member of the legislature.
Arthur said that despite GOP lawmakers’ touting full funding of the formula, the state still ranks in the bottom half of all states in funding per student and many schools still struggle to pay for transportation services and teacher training.
“While we have fully funded that formula, we’re underfunding other parts of education funding,” she said.
Arthur participated in Teach for America and worked as a middle school teacher at the now-closed Urban Community Leadership Academy, a Kansas City charter school, that came under scrutiny after a state audit into its finances.
Arthur said the experience made her skeptical about efforts to expand charters without stronger accountability standards. “It’s often offered as a silver bullet solution, and it’s not,” she said.
She said she also learned the importance of wrap-around services for students, which she said deserve more funding.
“A lot of them are coming to school hungry. A lot of them have trauma,” she said.
Arthur pointed to her time in the classroom as what drove her into politics.
“I wanted my students to have every available opportunity and it felt like the system was rigged against them, and that was the result of decisions made in government,” said Arthur, who has served in the House since 2015.
Corlew also said that the state needs to “provide greater structure” for charter schools “to make sure they have the same guidelines as public schools” before further expansion.
Corlew has often broken from GOP leadership on labor issues, opposing the state’s controversial right-to-work law last year and voting against the successful GOP-led effort to move up a referendum on the law from November to August.
“I’ve stood with our working families here in the Northland. … That’s an instance where it’s putting people over party,” he said.
Arthur, however, questioned Corlew’s commitment to workers' rights because of his sponsorship of House Bill 1512, legislation backed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry that allows employers to require employees to go through an arbitration process for disputes rather than going to court.
“It shifts power from employees and people who are wronged to corporations. It’s a system that very much benefits people who are already in power,” Arthur said.
She called the legislation particularly problematic for sexual harassment cases, saying that it allows inappropriate behavior to continue in secrecy.
During a hearing on the bill in January, Corlew argued that in arbitration processes “employees are more likely to argue their case and be heard.”
Asked to point to a policy difference between him and Arthur, Corlew highlighted their votes on a tax cut Missouri lawmakers passed in May.
“I supported a tax cut for Northlanders and my opponent did not,” he said.
Corlew said that because the bill closes loopholes he believes it’s as close to revenue-neutral as possible. “I think it’ll help grow the economy, not gouge the state coffers,” he said.
Arthur disagreed, pointing to the error in the bill’s original fiscal note.
“Missouri has been eating away at its tax base for years and years,” she said, contending that the bill was intended to help corporations at the expense of state services.
“This is also at a time when we’re having to make cuts to our vital services and decide whether to fund programs for grandparents or fund programs for kids,” she said.
Missouri lawmakers passed two bills cutting the corporate tax rate to 4 percent from 6.25 percent and deepening individual income tax cuts already set to gradually go into effect. The individual income tax bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, will cut the top rate for individuals to 5.5 percent next year from 5.9 percent. If the state hits certain revenue targets, the rate will continue to decline gradually to 5.1 percent.
Both bills limit tax deductions in an attempt to make them revenue neutral.
The two candidates also differ on abortion.
Corlew has supported several pieces of legislation to restrict abortion in Missouri.
“I’m a father of three adopted children and I’m so grateful that their birth mothers gave them life and gave them a chance to have a forever family,” Corlew said.
Arthur supports abortion rights.
“I would say that when it comes to abortion that’s a deeply personal issue. … Not a decision that should be made by politicians in Jefferson City. I trust women to make good decisions,” she said.
Arthur said lawmakers should dedicate the time they spend talking about abortion each year to discuss “things like maternal mortality, programs for foster kids and preventing unwanted pregnancy.”