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Archive for Monday, August 13, 2001

Education groups may form PAC

Lawmaker cautions against lobbying too aggressively

August 13, 2001

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Two Kansas education groups might add the muscle to their campaigns for better public school funding by launching a new political action committee.

But raising the stakes of their lobbying can be risky, said Rep. Ralph Tanner, a Baldwin Republican who chairs the House Education Committee.

"As a matter of fact, if the lobbying activity picks up, it might even have a reverse action," he said.

Kansas Association of School Boards and United School Administrators of Kansas are considering whether a PAC formally, it would be independent of both organizations could help sway public and legislative opinion in ways that increased state financial support for districts.

The PAC would support education-friendly candidates with endorsements and contributions.

"We are looking at that possibility. The question: Is there interest among educational supporters to come together for an independent PAC?" said Mark Tallman, KASB's assistant executive director for advocacy.

Brilla Highfill Scott, executive director of United School Administrators, said meager legislative support for public school districts the past few years led KASB and USA to consider new approaches to lobbying.

"I wish so much we didn't have to think in this direction," Scott said. "If this comes about, we will be endorsing candidates."

The boards of KASB and USA have given their respective executive directors permission to explore the PAC option. Neither organization has fully committed to the idea.

Craig Grant, director of political action for the Kansas National Education Assn., said his organization would maintain its own PAC. It's been in operation about 30 years and focuses on a broad range of education issues.

But he understands why KASB and USA leaders might conclude a logical tactic to influencing the Legislature's approach to school finance would be the election of politicians more supportive of public education.

There are too many lawmakers in the House and Senate opposed to adoption of statewide tax increases that could benefit public schools, he said.

"The resources of the state have dwindled down so they can't make meaningful increases in school finance," Grant said.

Tanner said KNEA's political action committee had ruffled feathers in the statehouse, and any new outfit might do the same.

He said the investment KNEA's political action committee made last year in members of the House Education Committee didn't produce landslide support for public schools.

In the 2000 election, 15 of 23 committee members received contributions from the PAC operated through KNEA, a statewide labor organization with about 25,000 members in Kansas.

Tanner said he regrets not sending back KNEA's $100 donation to his campaign.

"I'm very sorry ... I didn't," he said.

Grant said KNEA's investments in campaigns last year did influence education policy.

He said the PAC spent money on moderate candidates running for the Kansas State Board of Education. A 6-4 conservative majority was changed to a 7-3 moderate majority, he said.

"That's the best and most recent example. We made no secret that we were trying to change the makeup of the board," Grant said.

USA has 1,400 members and is an umbrella organization for nine school administrator groups. The roster includes superintendents and principals as well as curriculum, special education and vocational directors.

KASB's members are the governing boards of school districts, community colleges, vocational-technical schools and education cooperatives.

The organization was involved with an education PAC about 10 years ago, but its unfocused mission led to its demise.

By concentrating on school finance, Tallman said a new PAC had a better chance of success.

He said the goal would be to counter the idea school districts didn't have budget woes.

"We've got to make clear that there is a problem."

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