The Garden City Telegram
3/23/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Selling out

On education, Powell fails to acknowledge local issues.

When it comes to education, Garden City needs strong representation in Topeka.

But the community won't get as much from their state senator.

Questioned recently about proposed legislation that would slash education funding locally, Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, was anything but troubled by the potential harm in his Senate district.

At issue was a Senate bill that would change how at-risk students are determined.

Currently, students eligible for free meals under federal law are considered at risk. The plan would redefine "at risk" to mean students falling short academically.

Local representatives in the Kansas House — Republicans John Doll and Russ Jennings — understandably denounced the change because it would sharply reduce the number of eligible students and per pupil funding, an estimated $3 million a year in Garden City USD 457 alone.

Lawmakers should see the pitch as a conservative Republican ploy to pull dollars from districts with many poor students — USD 457 included — and shift those funds to more affluent schools in eastern Kansas. Plus, cutting at-risk funding only would hinder academic achievement.

Powell, however, suggested he could live with such change to get another deal down the road.

"I've known people, all they do is read the paper and vote what their district wants," he said during last Saturday's legislative coffee in Garden City. "That's not the way I operate. I have friends and if I really need something, I think I have enough friends to get it."

While deal-making is part of the process, Powell has no business dismissing the local school district's interests in such a way.

Powell does have a responsibility to sit down with local educators and try to understand their challenges. He also should address the far-reaching impact of local property tax hikes and job losses, should misguided cuts to education materialize.

Indeed, no lawmaker should cast a vote without understanding all sides of an issue.

But considering Powell only landed in the Senate because he could be trusted to rubber-stamp a radical conservative agenda — regardless of the cost to local constituents — his indifference toward public schools was to be expected.

How unfortunate for Garden City and the people he supposedly represents.