Tom Sloan and Linda Robinson are running for Kansas House District 45.
Education funding has emerged as a top issue in a Kansas House race for the district that includes much of western Lawrence and Douglas County.
The two candidates don’t exactly disagree the state needs to do more to fund K-12 and higher education.
Both believe they can do a better job at advocating for education funding.
“I’m familiar with the budget and budgeting problems we’ve been having,” said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Republican who has represented the district since 1995. “I’m also a coalition builder. You don’t pass anything in the Kansas Legislature without being able to work with people from all walks of life, from all parts of the state.”
But his challenger for the 45th District seat — Democrat Linda Robinson, who is a former Lawrence school board member — said the county’s delegation needs a member on the House Education Committee to advocate better.
“It’s time we start investing in our public schools,” Robinson said. “Our current employees will be the future of this state, so we have to prepare people for 21st century skills. To me there is a critical and vital link between quality public education and economic growth and progress.”
The race has become a tug-of-war about whether the district would benefit more from new blood or the experience of its sitting legislator.
Last session, Sloan supported a sales tax increase, led by moderate Republicans and Democrats, that passed and was aimed at stopping the state from having to institute more budget cuts in the midst of the economic crisis.
“I could not see further reductions in state aid to education at all levels, social safety net programs, even public safety,” he said. “What I believe that shows about me is I work in a nonpartisan manner for the benefit of our community and our state.”
Sloan said he originally supported a plan to create a third income-tax bracket and increase alcohol and tobacco taxes, but the sales tax plan was the only one that emerged with Gov. Mark Parkinson’s support. He said to avoid further cuts he would consider similar increases in income, alcohol or tobacco taxes, but Sloan said that if Sam Brownback is elected governor he likely won’t endorse any kind of tax increase, meaning the state needs to work at streamlining certain services.
Robinson, who served eight years on the Lawrence school board and most recently worked at Kansas University’s Center for Research on Learning in a grant-funded position, said she would have voted for the sales tax increase as well.
But Robinson also said she worried about the state’s school finance formula leaning more on local property taxes, known as the local-option budget.
“We need a better system that is more equitable and statewide so that it’s not dependent upon where children live for the quality of education they are going to receive,” she said.
Sloan said his experience has shown the ability to think outside the box on issues, such as expanding broadband services to rural communities to help them be able to offer more educational courses in schools.
“I’ve basically put some things in motion on energy, on water and health care and education,” Sloan said. “I want to see the programs develop more life.”
Both candidates have said the state needs to do more to develop its renewable energy and bioscience potential to create jobs.
Robinson said the district needs new blood in Topeka and that she would advocate to get a post on the House Education Committee.
“Tom has been in office for 16 years,” she said. “I just feel like I want to go over to Topeka and provide stronger leadership for education, economic growth and development.”