Questions and answers from Sebelius, Barnett

Q: Will you promise to protect the level of education funding provided for in the three-year school funding plan approved this year by the Legislature and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court? Please answer yes or no, and explain why.

Sebelius: “Yes – because it is the most important thing we can do for the future of Kansas. I made this commitment when the bill passed, and I firmly intend to keep it.”

Barnett: “The plan I introduced into the Senate earlier this year provided a $495 million increase in school funding but spread over four years. This plan was fully funded with real dollars. Our current governor made a promise to the children of Kansas with no plan to pay for it, with no funding for the second and third years. Our state will be short by more than $216 million by the third year of the current plan. To meet the promise made to Kansas school children, our economy must begin growing faster than it has during the last three years. I have presented a plan to get our economy growing, and I intend to fully fund for the education bill.”

Though No Child Left Behind is a federal initiative, will you use the governor’s office to urge Congress to make changes to the law, and if so, what changes would you like to see?

Sebelius: “Yes, while its premise and intent are good, its implementation needs work.

“First, when Washington increases expectations on our schools, they need to increase support to our schools. Here in Kansas, we have stepped up our funding to achieve our desired results; Washington should do the same.

“Secondly, while it is admirable to expect large percentage increases in test scores from lower-achieving schools, it’s unfair to hold higher-achieving schools to the same standard. When a great school is in the topmost tiers of performance, they should not be punished for having already achieved excellence. Washington needs to understand the difference between going from a D to a B, and going from an A to an A+.”

Barnett: “As a past school board member and president, I understand the impact of No Child Left Behind on increased student learning. No one wants to see any child fail to meet proficiency standards. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of parents, students, teachers and administrators, a few children will not achieve as we would like.

“While the goal of 100 percent proficiency is laudable, I would encourage changes at the federal level to make the goals more realistic and achievable.”

As governor, please state two or three changes to the public school system that you think are needed, and what, if anything, will you do to make those changes reality?

Sebelius: “We must continue to increase accountability in school spending to make sure that our tax dollars find their way into the classroom and do not become lost in administrative bureaucracy. Some districts perform very well; others need improvement. I will work with educators to demand, encourage and maintain best practices in every school district so that taxpayers know they are getting the most for their money. I have started that process already with our school audits, and I will continue to do so if re-elected.

“Some children would benefit greatly from early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs. Assisting these children in the early years not only helps them excel later in life but also saves us money by addressing learning and developmental issues when they can most easily be improved, rather than addressing them later when they are expensive and difficult to adjust. I have provided funding for this in my 2007 budget including over $8 million in Smart Start Grants; this is an area I will continue to pursue if re-elected.

“I have proposed funding for all-day kindergarten in the past, but this Legislature has made it clear they’re not interested in providing it. Hopefully, after November, we’ll have more legislators who share my commitment to Kansas kids making all-day kindergarten, in every community who wants it, a reality.”

Barnett: “Teachers should teach, and we need to take a hard look at reducing time away from the classroom for teachers. As governor, I would initiate a complete top-to-bottom evaluation of what is taking teachers away from the class room, including testing and paperwork.

“Students today spend more time at school than ever before. At the same time, childhood obesity is increasing at an alarming rate. I will lead the fight to develop a unified approach to provide healthier foods in our schools. We must also look a possible ways to restructure the school day to increase physical activity to deal with childhood obesity among young Kansans.”