Scanning the name tags of the audience at Saturday morning’s Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Eggs and Issues event gave a good indication of the day’s hot topic: cuts to state education funding.
At least a quarter of those registered for the event were from the Lawrence Education Association, and many more featured “USD 497” on their name tags.
Answering a variety of questions was a panel made up of area state representatives Ann Mah, D-Topeka, TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, plus House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe; and state senators Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence.
There were plenty of questions but not enough time as focus of the moderated discussion shifted to proposed cuts to state education funding.
“It’s stirred up a little bit of discussion, to say the least,” Davis said.
Kansas faces a $492 million shortfall in revenue for the coming fiscal year, starting July 1, and Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget recommendation — revealed in January — includes a $132 million cut in this year’s education spending.
Several of the lawmakers warned that potential budget cuts could force school districts to raise local revenue, which would be more difficult for smaller districts.
That could result in “a state of haves and have-nots,” Holland said.
Siegfreid, however, emphasized making tough decisions in tight economic times.
“We can’t print money,” he said. “We don’t cut for fun, we’re cutting out of necessity.”
Hank Booth, the Chamber’s government and community affairs director, said Saturday’s event broke an Eggs and Issues attendance record, as more than 120 ate breakfast and listened to lawmakers in the Alton Ballroom at Pachamama’s, 800 N.H.
Booth attributed the strong turnout to the education concerns and the many new faces in the Kansas legislature.
“All eyes are focused on Topeka,” Booth said. “Everybody’s watching.”
Following Eggs and Issues, school board and city commission candidates engaged in a dialogue and met with the public in a forum sponsored by the Voter Education Coalition.
The Chamber will sponsor two more Eggs and Issues events before July, including one in March, though a date for the event has not been set.