If you think the legal drinking age is the only political issue of interest to high school students, think again.
Gay rights, abortion and welfare were among issues raised by about 30 Kansas high school students during a special assembly Thursday. Now high school students in Lawrence and five other Kansas communities will vote on those issues in November.
The special vote is part of Kids Voting Kansas, in which students grades kindergarten through 12 will go to the polls Nov. 3. Although the votes of students younger than 18 won't count in the official totals, they will be tabulated by volunteers.
Participating in Thursday's special assembly at the state Capitol in Topeka were about five students from each of the Kids Voting Kansas communities Lawrence, Ulysses, Newton, Maize, Junction City and Winfield.
IN ADDITION to voting on candidates for state and congressional offices and for the presidency, students in grades nine through 12 will vote on three questions developed Thursday.
Those questions, still in draft form, ask if the following should be adopted:
"Except as otherwise provided, any person receiving welfare payments shall be required to acquire skills which enable such person to obtain employment."
"No person shall be denied employment, advancement in employment or salary or wage increase on the basis of such person's sexual preference. No person shall be terminated from employment, demoted or receive a salary or wage decrease on the basis of such person's sexual preference."
"No state shall regulate or restrict abortion."
THE HIGH SCHOOL students broke into small groups and "brainstormed" to come up with possible questions. The entire group then held a discussion and a vote to narrow down to three the number of questions that will appear on the ballot.
LHS senior Jennifer McClelland brought up the issue of welfare in her brainstorming group and later spoke on the floor of the Senate chamber in support of getting the issue on the ballot.
"I believe that in order to change the financial stability of the nation, we need to work on individuals, and a way to do this is to educate the people on welfare so they can break their cycle of dependence and have a fulfilling career," McClelland said.
LHS senior Katie Chaffee said she was pleased with the three questions.
"I'M REALLY interested to find out what teen-agers feel about issues such as abortion and homosexual rights," Chaffee said. "I think it's going to be really interesting. I just hope everybody takes it seriously."
LHS senior Hemant Bhana agreed.
"These are questions that are very important to life today and issues that need to be addressed," Bhana said. "It's good that they were addressed now."
Other issues the students discussed were the environment, the establishment of low-interest federal loans for college students and, not surprisingly, the legal drinking age.
During the special assembly Thursday, the students were addressed by Gov. Joan Finney and Secretary of State Bill Graves. The students also met with House Speaker Marvin Barkis and Senate President Bud Burke.
LHS senior Sharyn Lewin said she was impressed with the day's activities and with the Kids Voting program in general.
"I THINK getting students involved is a great way to increase voter turnout," Lewin said. "I really think it will motivate kids, who in turn will motivate parents."
So far, eight Lawrence elementary schools have signed up to participate in Kids Voting: Hillcrest, Quail Run, Broken Arrow, Deerfield, Grant, New York, Centennial and Woodlawn. Central and South Junior high schools also are participating, along with LHS.
Lawrence teachers will use a special curriculum to prepare students for the vote.
LHS senior Marshall Tidwell said, "I think the best part about the program is that it should encourage parents to vote."