Fighting for kids has been my lifelong mission. Right out of high school, I went to work at a camp that served disadvantaged adolescents. When I became a recreation therapist, I worked with children battling severe mental illness. And I actually first ran for office because my state senator voted to slash funding for our schools. I won that race because Kansans agreed with my top priority — investing in our children.
During my time in the state Senate, I’ve worked to make sure every Kansas child has the support they need to succeed. That means access to good public schools, but it also means strong early childhood programs, an accountable child welfare system to protect kids, and affordable, safe child care. And because of my commitment and work on behalf of children, I recently received the 2018 Distinguished Service to Children Award from the Kansas Children’s Service League and the KNEA Friend of Education Award.
But my proudest accomplishment was securing critical support for early childhood education programs. In 2009, I pushed for the creation and funding of early childhood block grants to ensure that more kids enter kindergarten ready to learn. It’s really not rocket science: Put kids on the right path at an early age — and keep them there. It’s how they succeed; it’s how their families succeed and it’s how Kansas succeeds.
For years, Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer pushed their irresponsible tax experiment on Kansas, decimating our state’s budget. They forced cuts to programs across the board and attempted to dismantle our public schools. I fought hard to protect our students, teachers, and schools. But we still saw larger class sizes, fewer programs and experienced teachers fleeing the state.
Fortunately, the election of 2016 brought a wave of new faces to the Legislature and a shift in priorities. However, we still have leadership in the Legislature and the governor’s office that does not support public schools, early learning, career and technical programs, or higher education. For Kansas to make real progress, that must change. We must elect more leaders who share our vision.
I have a vision of education that spans from early childhood to K-12 to college to the workforce. Because every step along the way is important: a chance for our state to do right by our kids and their parents — or to let them down. And sadly, for the past seven years, Brownback and Colyer have let them down.
Parents, teachers and business owners get it. They know that great schools are the key to a bright future and growing economy. As governor, I will make our schools a top priority again. Instead of focusing on doing the minimum, we will plan and innovate. We will expand pre-K programs, fully fund our K-12 schools and add a cost of living index to keep us out of court. We will also invest more in career and technical programs and create new public-private partnerships that connect businesses with skilled young people.
If we come together, we will make sure Kansas has the best schools in the nation so our children can be ready for the jobs of the future. Our economy is changing, and Kansas must continue to modernize our public schools to compete.
I’m running for governor to make sure every Kansas child has the opportunity to succeed — no matter who they are or where they live. With your help, I can be the education governor our families and children deserve.
Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly is a candidate for Kansas governor.