The teachers union on Tuesday endorsed Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly in her bid for governor, casting her as a friend to education and warning her opponents will renew attacks on schools.
The Kansas chapter of the National Education Association released a list of recommended candidates — 76 Democrats, 21 Republicans — for statewide, congressional and legislative races after evaluating them by interviews and voting record, said union spokesman Marcus Baltzell.
Kelly has supported efforts to comply with Kansas Supreme Court orders and provide adequate and equitable funding for public schools. The Legislature lowered funding for schools in response to the 2008 economic recession and struggled to balance the budget in the wake of former Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policy.
"I'm not new to the struggle educators and students have endured in recent years," Kelly said. "I have fought against policies that put the interests of a select few ahead of the promise of opportunity for every Kansas student. Throughout my career, I have stood with our teachers and the professionals who are closest to our students in the classroom."
Her Republican opponent, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, opposed a plan the Legislature passed this year to phase in an increase of $522 million over the next five years. The supreme court accepted the plan but demanded an upward adjustment for inflation. Kobach supports a constitutional amendment that would neuter the high court's authority to determine whether funding is adequate.
Kobach also wants to impose a mandate that three-fourth of all education funding be spent in the classroom.
"The KNEA is not looking out for the interests of teachers," said Danedri Hebert, his spokeswoman. "Secretary Kobach’s proposal to spend 75 cents of every education dollar in the classroom would result in more money being spent on teacher salaries and less money being spent on redundant administrators."
Critics of the proposal say he is blurring the distinction between state funding and bonds that local taxpayers approve for construction projects, and that cuts to areas like transportation, counseling and food would be necessary to meet the 75 percent goal. In the most recent school year, administration accounted for about 7 percent of all education funding.
KNEA endorsed the Democrat in each of the four U.S. House races, including Paul Davis in the 2nd District. Davis, who made education an issue in his gubernatorial campaign against Brownback four years ago, spoke to union teachers who rallied at the Statehouse in April when lawmakers were considering the school finance package.
Because Kansas is a red state, Baltzell said, many KNEA members are Republican. However, he said, a lot of Republicans declined to answer questions, which contributed to the disparity between parties for recommended candidates.
"It’s not about partisanship one way or the other," Baltzell said. "It’s about who stood up for Kansas children."
Teachers backed Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Republican from Topeka, in her race for insurance commissioner.
They decided not to give their blessing to Rep. Fred Patton, the Republican from Topeka who served as chairman of the House Education Committee and was architect for the plan to add school funding.
Patton said he chose not to participate in surveys this year to avoid any allegiance to special interests. Even if he had, Baltzell said Patton's vote in committee to advance a constitutional amendment would have been among criteria the union considered.
"He just had a spotty record," Baltzell said.
By voting to advance the amendment, Patton said, House leadership could turn their focus to his school finance plan.
"That was the way to keep things moving forward," Patton said. "I think the teachers and administrators in my district know I support K-12 education. That's why I got involved in the Legislature in the first place — my passion for education."
Patton also serves on the school board for Seaman Unified School District 345. KNEA declined to endorse his opponent, Democrat Dan Brennan, as well.