TOPEKA — Kansas gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett said Thursday the state’s next governor can narrow academic achievement gaps by expanding early childhood education and restore constitutionality of state financing to public schools by adding $200 million in each of the next three years.
“I think the governor and Legislature need to commit to that,” Barnett said during a campaign stop in Topeka. “For most of the past 12 years, decisions around education funding have been stuck in court. We need to end this cycle. We cannot make the necessary changes we need in education if we are constantly arguing in front of a judge.”
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October the state’s school finance system was inequitable and inadequate. The 2018 Legislature and the state’s governor have until April 30 to offer a remedy to the court.
Meanwhile, Barnett said that as governor, he would restore a ban on discrimination against gay, lesbian or transgender state employees. In 2015, Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded job protections in an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius during 2007.
“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said at that time.
Brownback’s nomination to be ambassador of religious freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump has been questioned by Democrats concerned about the governor’s position on discrimination. The nomination was narrowly approved by a committee, but hasn’t been acted upon by the full Senate.
Barnett, who was the GOP’s nominee for governor in 2006 and lost to Sebelius, said more state funding of K-12 public education would be needed to comply with the court’s decision, but academic standards embraced by the justices were outdated.
“We are using 20th century standards when our children need a 21st century education to succeed,” he said.
He was at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library to explain the need for a more robust preschool program to help one-fourth of the state’s students struggling academically. An innovative statewide early childhood initiative can assist children to overcome neglect, abuse or lack of parental interaction damaging to educational progress, he said.