Gov.-elect Laura Kelly’s detailed review of the Republican-controlled executive branch in Kansas exposed unexpectedly deep problems requiring a triage approach familiar to doctors responding to a calamity.
Kelly, a Democratic state senator from Topeka, said she would seek a legacy as governor that featured a substantially invigorated statewide early childhood education system.
She said during a forum sponsored by the Kansas News Service on Wednesday in Topeka that she was focused on selecting staff for Cabinet agencies before inaugurated in January. She is preparing a new state budget for delivery to the Legislature that reflected her priorities of financing of public education, exploring options for expanding eligibility for Medicaid, investing in highway and broadband infrastructure, and improving the foster care system.
“We said this all through the campaign that the problems were broad and they’re deep,” she said. “I am disappointed that the devastation was even worse than I thought. We are going to have to approach them sort of how you would triage.”
Kelly, who defeated GOP nominee Kris Kobach in November, said taking care of schools and Medicaid would serve economic interests of Kansans, especially rural communities, in ways overlooked by Gov. Jeff Colyer and former Gov. Sam Brownback.
“Some of the things we’ve done over the past eight years have hit our rural communities much harder than any place else,” Kelly said. “When you underfund the schools and they have to close, when you don’t expand Medicaid and your rural hospitals close or are on the brink of it -- the impact on the economy is huge.”
Kelly said she wasn’t keen to back Republican legislators who seek an amendment to the Kansas Constitution designed to dilute the court system’s involvement in K-12 education. She said the state could afford $90 million tied to an education inflation metric endorsed by the Kansas Supreme Court and that Kansas voters would reject an amendment ending judicial review.
Kelly said she wanted to expand early childhood education to engage families in ways that reduced demand for mental health and special education services and lowered the prospect of children entering the juvenile justice system.
She said the goal was a public-private partnership, but she didn’t offer details of how it could be equitably organized.
“I want to leave as my legacy a very robust early-childhood program across the state of Kansas,” she said.