Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann visited a group of student council members at Garden City High School on Friday morning to talk about a new education council formed by Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The P20 education council was created with an executive order Colyer signed on Tuesday in Wichita. A similar council existed under former governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. The council’s goal is to keep more Kansas graduates in the state's workforce, and Mann’s visit to GCHS was part of relaying that message.
Commissioner of Education Randy Watson and Blake Flanders, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, will oversee the 16-member council.
Mann told students on Friday that the governor hopes to assemble different groups working on education in Kansas through the council, spanning K-12 educators and officials, the board of regents, and Republicans and Democrats from the state Senate.
Mann said it’s important to bring members of the business community together with education officials to ensure that students graduating at different points along the academic ladder are able to find a good quality of life in Kansas with a good job.
Colyer’s team is visiting communities across the state to listen to educators and students explain what is important to them.
Mann encouraged the assembled students to “dream big” and take advantage of the opportunities in Garden City, where he said, “the sky is the limit.”
When asked what skills are crucial in the transition from high school to college, Mann told the students on the cusp of spring break that the No. 1 rule is just to go to class.
“If you just go to class, the likelihood that you will succeed in college is astronomically higher,” he said.
Mann said his primary duties as lieutenant governor include focusing on business, agriculture and rural development. Appointed to his position in mid-February, Mann says he is spending a lot of time trying to figure out how Kansas can continue to grow economically in communities of all sizes, especially smaller ones.
Mann's mother grew up in Stanton County, where his family still farms. He grew up on a farm in northwest Kansas, and now lives in Salina.
"Garden City is a success story," he said. "There are a lot of communities in our state that aren't growing like Garden City has, and how do we help our smaller rural communities to grow?"
Mann told GCHS students his background is in business, not politics, but that he is ready to focus on the issues facing the state’s rural ag industry.
When asked by one student what he sees for Kansas in 15 years, Mann said he expects the state to remain on the “cutting edge” of “a lot of areas,” including agriculture. The hurdle, he said, will be figuring out how to add value to our agricultural products and grow the economy to create jobs that keep people in the state.
From the beginning, Mann has lamented Kansas’ trending departure of young people for other places.
“I love it that we export so many of our products,” Mann said. “It pains me that we export too many of our kids that leave our state because often they can’t find a job here that they want. So when I think about Kansas in 15 years, I think about a vibrant economy that has a whole wide range of jobs at all levels that Kansans that live here and grow up here can do their jobs and then raise their families and have a real high quality of life.”
Another student broached the issue of gun control and asked Mann his thoughts on arming teachers.
Last month, Colyer said he thought President Donald Trump’s proposal to give teacher’s financial incentives to carry firearms was a potentially “good idea.”
In response to the question, Mann said, “I support the Second Amendment.”
“The governor does as well,” he said. “I think the Second Amendment means what it says and our founding fathers, that was foundational for them when they laid out the Bill of Rights.”
He added that he thinks the decision to allow teachers to carry firearms should be made on a local basis.
Department of Commerce Education Executive Diane DeBacker and Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee, accompanied Mann to GCHS.
Alley said he thinks Colyer is doing a good job in his forward approach to finding solutions for the Kansas education system, noting that Colyer has been visiting with school leaders and talking with parents to identify the biggest needs.
“We need to improve our graduation rates,” Alley said. “The more he can do there, we can be filling the jobs. We have 49,000 jobs that are unfilled today. We need employees for those jobs, and education is a guidepost for that.”
Alley added that he thinks Kansas is headed in a good direction, but that state lawmakers and officials need to do even more.
“But at least we have a target, and we know what that target should be,” Alley said. “Now we have to figure out a way to get there.”
Contact Mark Minton at email@example.com.