A tour of 15 school districts, including Lawrence, revealed concern with class size, safety, early-childhood and special education, school modernization and teacher shortages.
After touring schools in Lawrence and elsewhere in the 3rd District, Congressman Dennis Moore says he might offer legislation that forgives the school loans of college graduates who agree to teach at least three years in public schools.
The Democrat from Johnson County also said he would push for more federal support for special education programs for children with disabilities, based on what he learned talking to educators in his district.
"We need appropriate resources," Moore said. "I will personally encourage my colleagues to support special education funding. It's a question of priorities. You don't neglect kids."
Moore said people he met in the 3rd District told him "inclusion" of students with disabilities in regular classrooms had been positive for most students.
But he said he was disturbed to learn Congress wasn't meeting its 1975 pledge to pay 40 percent of the average per-pupil cost of serving special-education students. Moore said the federal government currently covers just 7 percent.
During a three-month period, Moore visited 15 of the 16 school districts in his congressional district.
He said he did it to learn what parents, teachers and administrators had to say about improving education in Douglas, Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties.
"Voters in Kansas have let me know how vitally important quality public schools are to them," Moore said. "For all the successes I witnessed, there were also some areas we need to improve."
Moore said people on the tour told him they welcomed a federal government role in public education, but as a junior partner to local government. He said he agrees.
"My position is that education is primarily a state and local function," he said.
Moore said he learned on the tour that:
- Teachers want more intervention programs for students who are disturbed or abused. Social workers and psychologists are needed to work with students and make schools safer.
- Educators and parents support small class sizes for children in kindergarten through third grade. Some classrooms in the district had student-to-teacher ratios of 30:1.
- Many people support all-day kindergarten and expansion of the Head Start program for preschoolers. State Senate Pres. Dick Bond, a Republican, recently unveiled a 10-point plan for K-12 improvement that includes all-day kindergarten.
- There are too many outdated school buildings that are expensive to maintain and difficult to fit with modern computer technology. In one school district, the newest building was 35 years old.
- Young people are reluctant to become teachers because of low pay, lack of respect for the profession, large class sizes and unsafe working environments.
Moore said he is considering introduction of a bill that would forgive up to $10,000 in college loans for graduates who agree to teach in public schools for three years.
"That's what it's going to take ... to get some young men and women who want to teach but feel like they can't because of loans," he said.
Moore said a piece of legislation mired in Congress could benefit the nation by supporting the hiring of 100,000 new teachers.
"It's ideological more than anything," he said explaining why the bill is stuck. "The Republican Party, the majority party, wants to do block grants to schools. The president's proposal was that federal money be used specifically for hiring teachers."
Moore said there was concern among Democrats that block grants to states could be diverted to purposes other than hiring more teachers.
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.