Education key issue for House candidates
Leo Kerwin thinks a closer look is needed at the connection, or lack thereof, of the cost and quality of education in Kansas.
"People are beginning to question whether there's a connection between the money spent and actual learning that goes on in the classroom," he said. "I think for the first time that people are seriously beginning to ask why it costs so much to educate a child. They're beginning to try to connect this with the actual education achievement of our students at school."
Kerwin said he wouldn't be against raising taxes to fund education if he was elected to the 10th District seat in the Kansas House, but he would want a close examination of how the money is doled out.
He compared funding schools to having people over for dinner in the mid 1900s.
"Back then we all had gardens," he said. "Before you went to the store to buy food for dinner, you checked to see what you had in the garden, so you only spent what you needed to spend."
He said he would be willing to spend more money on education if additional money was found "in the garden."
"The question is how we use the money," he said.
Kerwin's opponent in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 10th District seat, two-year incumbent Tom Holland, agrees there should be a hard look at how money is used for education.
"There are some significant inefficiencies that need to be addressed," he said.
But Holland isn't against a tax increase to support education, either.
"Look at my voting record," he said. "I voted in 2003 and 2004 to raise sales tax and income tax to support K through 12 education."
Holland voted for a bill that would have raised $150 million in new taxes for schools. He was also in support of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' $304 million education package.
"There are inefficiencies, but I think people realize generally that our teachers are underpaid, which I believe they are," he said.
Both men, who are running for a chance to be able to represent the district, comprised of southeast Douglas County and northeast Franklin County, including Baldwin, Wellsville, north Ottawa and south-central Lawrence, believe education in Kansas is one of the most important issues facing legislators.
Holland believes the state needs to have a multi-year funding plan in place to make it easier for schools to plan their budgets.
"We need to have a multi-year commitment from the legislature on how we're going to fund our schools so people can plan," he said. "It's important we have a structure that tells the superintendents, teachers and parents that this is an investment over three to five years.
"We have to get away from year after year going to Topeka and battling for education," he said.
Kerwin, who taught for 34 years before retiring in 1998, said though he has never run for political office, he thought he would be able to provide some first-hand knowledge when making crucial education decisions.
"Judge (Terry) Bullock says the state of Kansas must come up with one billion dollars for minorities and disadvantaged students," he said. "If by chance Judge Bullock's ruling stands, I'll probably be the only candidate in the state of Kansas that will have dealt with issues pertaining to his decision since I have taught eight years in the inner city."
On other issues:
- Illegal immigrants
Holland was the only Democrat to vote against a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Kansas universities. The bill passed.
"I'd like to see every child in the state succeed," he said "But I don't think it sends a good message. In my mind, it sends a message to big businesses that we tacitly approve of hiring illegal immigrants. How do I justify that to fellow constituents who play by the rules and pay the taxes?"
He said the state needs to focus on businesses that employ illegal immigrants, because the practice is hurting the state's economy.
Holland, a small-business proponent, introduced a bill earlier this year that would have increased penalties for companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
"Numerous small business owners have come to me and said they can no longer compete because they are being decimated by businesses that hire illegal immigrants. And the state is getting ripped off in taxes," he said. "It's another example of corporate welfare."
Kerwin said he thought if illegal immigrants enjoy some rights, like the in-state tuition rates, then they should have the same responsibilities as citizens.
"If it is ruled they have certain legal rights, they should take on all responsibilities of citizenship," he said.
- Same-sex marriage
Holland voted for the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"I got a lot of mail, e-mail on the issue. The message I primarily hear from constituents is that they wanted this to be put on the ballot so they could voice their opinion," he said.
"My personal belief on such a hot-button issue is that if people want to vote on it, I have no problem with that."
Kerwin said the same-sex marriage issue was complicated.
"It's so much more difficult," he said. "The thing is so complicated, you can't really discuss it in a newspaper article."
But he said he would be willing to discuss the issue, and any others, in a public forum with Holland.
"Mr. Kerwin would be willing to have a friendly debate with my opponent on any of these topics at a time and place convenient to both of us," he said.
The winner of Tuesday's primary will face Lawrence resident Rich Lorenzo in the Nov. 2 general election.