Republican Kris Kobach wants a new TV ad from Democrat Laura Kelly changed or taken down. In the ad, she says Kobach has called Kansas schools overfunded.
Kelly, a Topeka state senator, launched her first TV ad in the general election race for Kansas governor on Thursday. It quickly triggered a showdown with Kobach, the Republican candidate and secretary of state.
Kobach “actually says our schools are overfunded,” Kelly says in the ad, which cites Kobach’s comments at a Republican primary debate in Atchison in April.
Kobach issued a fiery response and accused Kelly of lying.
“We had the entire section over education transcribed,” Kobach said in an interview. “And nowhere did I ever say anything like that or use the word ‘overfunded.’”
I’ve never said that,” Kobach said. “We’re calling on the Kelly campaign to change the ad or take it down.”
Kelly’s campaign responded to Kobach’s request by saying that “his plan to repeat the Brownback experiment would lead to another massive cut to our schools.”
Lawmakers slashed income tax rates under then-Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012, leading to years of budget problems before the Legislature largely reversed the rate cuts last year.
“If Kris Kobach wants this campaign to be about which candidate is committed to properly funding our schools, we welcome that debate,” Kelly spokeswoman Johanna Warshaw said.
The dispute highlights the extreme gap between Kelly and Kobach on education with less than two months to go before the November election.
It does not appear that Kobach has literally said that Kansas schools are overfunded. But on numerous occasions he has painted some school districts as opulent spenders.
Kobach also is a vocal opponent of a $500 million school funding increase approved by the Legislature this spring that is being phased in over five years. And he has said he wants a greater share of spending going toward classroom instruction.
He has called the funding increase a “king’s ransom” to the Kansas Supreme Court, which he says overstepped its authority in ruling on education finance.
In contrast, Kelly supports the funding. She also opposes a constitutional amendment supported by Kobach that would restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to review overall school funding levels.
The other major candidate, independent Greg Orman, was left out of Thursday’s battle. Kelly’s ad doesn’t mention Orman, who has promised to adequately fund schools.
A page of sources for the ad provided by the Kelly campaign cites a Kansas City Star story in support of the statement that Kobach says school districts have been overfunded.
The story covered the Atchison debate and paraphrased Kobach as saying some school districts have been overfunded, enabling them to construct “Taj Mahal-like” buildings and offer administrators inflated salaries.
During the debate, Kobach described attending school in a “shabby building” as a student at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka.
“My English classes were in a double-wide trailer... and somehow I managed to graduate and I got into Harvard and I did just fine,” Kobach said in April. “I didn’t need a supercomputer in every classroom.”
Kobach has come under scrutiny in recent days over comments about administrative positions in schools made at the State Fair debate earlier this month. He falsely said at the debate that a Wichita high school has a dozen assistant principals. No Wichita high school has that many assistant principals.
Kobach’s campaign later said he was told by a state legislator that one Wichita high school had 12 assistant principals. The campaign said that Wichita East High School and Wichita North High School combined have a dozen principals and vice principals, which it called “clearly excessive.”
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, posted an analysis this week based on state data that he says shows Wichita East and North have fewer principals than would be expected, based on their enrollment.
Between the two schools, each principal and assistant principal are responsible for 376 students each. The ratio is higher than the state overall, where on average principals and assistant principals are responsible for 289 students each, he wrote.