Corkins, Morris not well-received in tour out west

? Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board of Education member Connie Morris promoted charter schools on a two-day tour of western Kansas that ended Tuesday.

But the subject didn’t go over so well, according to folks who attended the meetings.

“It was not a warm and fuzzy meeting at all,” said Marvin Selby, superintendent of the Goodland school district.

“We certainly found out what their agenda is,” said Wes Fox, a history teacher at Liberal High School. “It is to promote charter schools.”

Corkins and Morris, a Republican from St. Francis, visited 12 western Kansas cities on Monday and Tuesday, scheduling 30 minutes at each stop.

Corkins has promoted changing Kansas law to allow more charter schools, which are schools that are not subject to some of the same rules and regulations as a traditional public school. Morris has spoken in favor of starting a charter school to help students start their own businesses.

Corkins also supports voucher plans that would allow at-risk or special-needs students to receive state tax assistance to attend private schools. He said the move to more charter schools and vouchers would improve education by increasing competition and giving parents more choices for their children’s education.

Kirk Nielsen, superintendent of the Colby district, said Corkins spent much of the meeting time “trying to convince us he was up to the job.”

Corkins was hired in October for the $140,000-per-year job by the board’s 6-4 conservative majority, which includes Morris.

The state education board has come under fire from many quarters for hiring Corkins, whose background is in conservative activism and as an opponent of public schools. He has no professional education experience.

Nielsen said Corkins also spoke in support of charter schools and private school vouchers for special education students.

But public school districts already are required to provide services to students if they attend private schools. “I don’t know if he knows that,” he said.

In Goodland, Supt. Selby said the meeting didn’t go well. A retired teacher told Corkins she disagreed with “everything he said. It got worse from there,” Selby said.

The issues of vouchers and charter schools are not on the front burner in western Kansas, he said, like other issues are, such as the difficulty in attracting science and math teachers to the region.

In Liberal, history teacher Fox took his advance placement class to the meeting.

He said Corkins and Morris spoke at the meeting about charter schools and vouchers, but that he wished they had come to hear about “what makes the school tick.”