Views From Kansas: Wagle failing to lead in Senate

The worst has come from Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita ultraconservative who fights mightily for Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber and like organizations supported by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Their far-reaching, self-serving pursuits include shifting taxpayer support for public education to private and home-school options.

As a result, the Senate president has deliberately hindered efforts to lawfully fund K-12 public schools. With a Kansas Supreme Court-ordered deadline to fix the ongoing problem, Wagle only stalled and bullied senators in an attempt to derail the process.

It didn’t work. At the last minute before legislators recently went on break, both chambers approved a $500 million funding increase for K-12 public schools over five years, which Gov. Jeff Colyer signed this week.

Shamelessly, Wagle tried to gloss over her own inaction: “We have a very different personality as a Senate than the House does. We’re very contemplative and detail-oriented.”

She apparently would equate contemplative to do-nothing, which best described her approach.

Lawmakers knew heading into the session that crafting a new school finance law would demand their utmost attention. Yet Wagle and fellow ultraconservative leaders in the Senate balked, no doubt hoping to pressure lawmakers into a last-minute decision that wouldn’t solve the problem. Fortunately, enough Republican and Democrat legislators in the House and Senate stepped up with a plan that has a shot at being deemed constitutionally sound.

The frantic conclusion, however, did produce an $80 million error in the $500 million plan, which was discovered after lawmakers headed home. While fixable when they return, the blunder likely could have been avoided with a more deliberative, careful approach.

Ultraconservatives simply don’t care about finding ways to put more dollars into K-12 education, and proved it — again.

Their counterproductive mindset has hurt public schools for years, with Kansas among the top states for declines in per student education funding since 2008. Kansas ranked a miserable fourth, behind only Oklahoma (worst), Alabama and Kentucky in a recent American School and University report.

Kansas can and must do better. Credit legislators who moved forward in spite of interference from Wagle and company for pushing toward that goal.

— Originally published in The Garden City Telegram