Topeka State Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and his Republican opponent Casey Moore, clashed in their approach to school funding during a candidate forum Thursday.
The two face off in the Nov. 6 general election for the 19th State Senate District, which includes much of western Douglas County and east Topeka.
Moore, a political newcomer also of Topeka, asked the crowd at Topeka High School how much was spent on schools. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Not enough."
But Moore said Kansas spends $12,000 per student per year. "My question is where is all the money," he said. He said schools needed more accountability and transparency.
Hensley said Moore's figures included funds that the state allocates for teacher pensions and capital expenses.
Base state aid per student last year was $3,780, which is only slightly ahead of $3,600 per student from 20 years ago and behind the $5,400 per student level if the amount had tracked with inflation, Hensley said.
"We are not adequately funding our schools," Hensley said.
Hensley criticized the recent massive tax cuts approved with only Republican votes in the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback signed into law tax cuts that exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes, and drop the top individual income tax rate from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent.
Legislative researchers say the cuts will produce revenue shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion. Brownback says the cuts will grow the economy.
Hensley said the cuts will result in cuts to schools. "It comes down to simple arithmetic," he said. "The Kansas Legislature has self-imposed a budget crisis of unbelievable proportion," he said.
Moore said the key to funding schools and other state services was to grow the economy. "The issue is jobs," said Moore. He said without economic growth, young people will leave the state after they graduate.
Moore said a new perspective was needed to represent the district.
Among other candidates at the forum was Jack Wu, a Republican from Topeka, who is running for the State Board of Education, District 4, against Democratic incumbent Carolyn Campbell, also from Topeka. The district includes much of Lawrence.
Wu is a self-described follower of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for protesting homosexuality and picketing the funerals of military members.
In his opening comments, Wu quoted the Bible and said Campbell was "doomed" because she supported the teaching of evolution.
Campbell did not attend the forum. In her place, Clardy Vinson, a former Topeka school administrator, stood in for her and said Campbell believes "our children are our most important resource, and every child deserves a quality education."