Archive for Thursday, October 26, 2006

Education, immigration flashpoints in 38th District House race

October 26, 2006

In challenger Diane Bryant's view, education funding is the key issue in the 38th District Kansas House race.

That's true in eastern parts of the district, first-term incumbent Rep. Anthony Brown said. But the Eudora Republican said as he went west in his door-to-door campaign other issues appeared in his race against retired school librarian Diane Bryant.

"I'm hearing different concerns," he said. "In the western part of the district the issues are taxes and immigration. Immigration is a powder keg in De Soto."

Still, Brown said education was an issue that comes up when he knocked on doors in the eastern part of a district that on paper looks like a snake stretched out along Kansas Highway 10 with its jaws clasped on eastern Lawrence. It includes all of De Soto and Eudora and parts of Lawrence, a section of Shawnee near the Kansas Highway 7 corridor, Olathe and Lenexa.

School finance

On voters' minds, Brown said, was his position on the $466 million school-funding package the Legislature approved in May. The measure stretched the added money over three years with a 2006-2007 increase of $194.5 million.

"I tell them I voted against, and then I tell them about the 31, 18 and 8 percentages," he said. "They end up thanking me."

The percentages Brown cites relate the fact that while 31 percent of the state's tax revenue comes from Johnson County and 18 percent of the state's students are enrolled in county schools, only 8 percent of the state school funding is earmarked for county districts. That bad deal led all Johnson County representatives, including Democrat Sue Storm, to vote against the school finance formula, Brown said.

It was even a worse deal for Eudora, which received less new money from the new formula than any district in the state. De Soto and Baldwin were also in the bottom three.

The reason was the formula rewarded districts with a large number of non-performing, at-risk or non-English speaking students, said Brown, who taught school before becoming a union carpenter. With that, Wichita, Topeka, and two Wyandotte County schools got the lion's share of the money, he said.

"I will not support (funding) the out years unless something drastically changes," he said. "If we can go in there and tinker with the formula -- maybe. But as it stands now, no way."

Bryant said she would, although she too acknowledged the formula didn't treat Johnson County districts or Eudora very favorably. It was a start by the Legislature in meeting its obligation to adequately fund education, she said. For the 10 years before the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling ordering the Legislature to adequately fund education, kindergarten through 12th-grade spending increased about $100 per student, she said.

"It was pretty much the negligence of the Kansas Legislature that created the problem," she said. "For years, they didn't do a good job of adequately funding education, so there was some catch up to be made."

Because of the Legislature's history, she would fight attempts to strike wording in the Kansas constitution requiring the Legislature adequately fund education, Bryant said.

"I would never support we do less than provide an adequate education for the people of Kansas," she said. "I grew up in Arkansas. I know what inadequate education means."

There wasn't a simple solution to addressing the shortfalls in the funding formula that affect 38th District schools, because giving large Johnson County districts what they want -- authority to further raise the local option budget mill levy -- was not popular with either school administrators or taxpayers in De Soto or Eudora.

"I'm torn how to help," she said. "Perhaps increased transportation weighting or bilingual weighting -- De Soto has a lot of bilingual students.

"I don't know how it will play out, but I'll do the best I can."

He would support added local option authority for local districts, although it would be unpopular in Eudora, Brown said. He said he also supported a proposal from two years ago that would allow districts in high cost of living areas to add mill levy authority for teachers' salaries. That would apply to De Soto but not Eudora, he said.

He backed a proposal from Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, that would provide students who completed graduation requirements in three years $1,000 and another $3,000 if they enrolled in an accredited vocational or technical school, he said.

The measure could free up $2.5 million to be spent elsewhere in education, Brown said.

Finally, Brown said adjusting at-risk and bilingual weighting could help schools in his district.

Immigration

As for the issue on which he is hearing so much about, Brown said he was the grandson of immigrants and not the hawk that some of those he had visited with would like. He does note with pride a bill he carried last session that established fines for employers who work through a "coyote" to hire large numbers of illegal immigrants in the construction industry, control their hours and provide their tools but then claim them as sub-contractors for tax purposes.

"The fine is $500 a day for individuals," he said. "That's huge."

Prosecution can be arduous, Brown said, but the bill did allow the Kansas departments of revenue and labor to work together on immigration.

Contrary to Brown, Bryant said immigration hadn't surfaced during her house-to-house campaigning. She supports efforts to fence the country's southern border and would support measures making employers who hire illegal aliens accountable.

Brown said if written right, he, too, would support such legislation. But he said a bill introduced last session fined employers for all illegal aliens they hired.

"There are just too many good fake IDs out there," he said. "I don't want it to come down too hard on businesses."

With Kansas last in the creation of private sector jobs, the state had to become more business friendly, Brown said. Last year's bill that started a four-year phase out of mechanical and equipment property taxes on business was a start, he said.

He said he wanted the Legislature to act on a sales tax holiday for school supplies such as now existed in Missouri. On those days, the malls on the Missouri side of the line outperform Oak Park Mall, which usually does three times their business, he said.

Her priority for tax relief would be property taxes for seniors, Bryant said.

"You shouldn't have to sell your house to be able to pay your school taxes," she said.

One area of agreement is the need to develop an energy policy that takes advantage of the state's natural resources of sunlight, wind and production of crops for bio-fuels. Brown and Bryant said they would support creation of an energy policy that was modeled off the state's 2003 $500 million bioscience initiative. That legislation is funded through income taxes of those working in life sciences and the deferring of property taxes and sales taxes bioscience industries owe.

"I think Anthony and I are both concerned we have alternative energy sources -- wind, solar, geothermal -- we could explore what would be better for the environment," she said. "As Americans and Kansans we have the ability to decrease our energy dependence.

"Kansas is the third windiest state in the union. That's self-perpetuating, so we could use that and make some money off it."

A coherent policy that encouraged use of the state's alternative energy sources would have the two-fold advantage of checking rising energy costs and providing a new sector in the economy, Brown said.

To promote use of alternative sources, he would like to provide incentives for companies converting to solar or wind energy sources, Brown said.

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