Two political newcomers vying to represent District 22 in the Kansas House have vastly different ideas about education spending in Kansas.
The race features two women, Republican Marla Brems and Democrat Nancy Lusk, who have made a name for themselves with their volunteer work on parent teacher organizations.
Brems supports an efficiency study to improve public schools and a voucher system to help parents pay for private and home schools. Lusk thinks lawmakers need to restore funding to public school before offering income tax cuts.
Brems, a 50-year-old stay-at-home mom, believes schools are adequately funded when you consider state spending, federal dollars, pensions and more. Instead of spending more, Brems said she wants school districts to be efficient with tax dollars to make sure more is spent in the classroom.
“The money is just not reaching the classroom. It’s not reaching the teachers,” she said.
Brems said a voucher system is one way to provide competition that holds public schools accountable for spending and student achievement.
“Parents should not only have a voice in their child’s education but choice,” she said. “Whether a tax-paying parent chooses public, private or home schooling, the funding should follow the student.”
The Overland Park woman said she hadn’t yet decided if she could support increasing the percentage of local option authority that school districts could levy.
“It might involve a tax increase, and that’s the last thing I want to do is increase taxes,” Brems said.
Brems said she could likely support the concept if local taxpayers are allowed to vote on it.
Brems said she was concerned about the quality of education given that many teachers are teaching to the test. She’d like to see teachers evaluated based in part on student performance.
Lusk, A 58-year-old small business owner, is running because, she said, “I wanted to make sure that there was a pro-education candidate.”
She doesn’t believe schools are adequately funded and will work to reduce class sizes and add teachers.
“A top priority of mine is to restore the cuts that have been made to public schools, K-12 funding,” Lusk said.
Lusk said she wants to see changes to the school finance formula but she would not use the formula as an excuse to avoid increasing base education spending at all. She believes other politicians have hidden behind the formula to avoid spending more.
“They’re OK with the bigger classrooms. They’re OK with fewer teachers and not paying them well,” she said.
Lusk said she would push to increase funding to keep up with the actual cost of educating a child.
Lusk said she supports efforts to increase the local option budget authority.
“I would strongly consider doing so because I recognize that the funds received from the local option budget are essential for the Shawnee Mission School District to sustain viability,” she said.
The two candidates also have strikingly different beliefs about the major income tax cuts signed by Gov. Sam Brownback this year.
Brems is a firm supporter of the tax cuts because, she said, it has worked in other states and will create jobs in Kansas.
“Anything we can do to promote small businesses is going to increase jobs in the state of Kansas,” she said.
Brems said she could support extending the one-cent sales tax as a short-term way to help make up the forecasted 18-month revenue dip before growth.
“When it’s something that’s taxed onto the sales tax it’s not just the rich or upper class that’s paying all these taxes,” Brems said. “You should pay your way. Don’t expect the government to give you things for free.”
Lusk said she wouldn’t be eager to support the one-cent sales tax extension, but hadn’t made a final decision. She pointed out that during the election two years ago conservative Republicans used the one-cent tax as a way to attack Democrats and moderate Republicans, who had supported it as a temporary measure during the economic downturn.
Lusk said she has serious concerns about the direction of Brownback’s overall tax policy. She wouldn’t support further cuts to the corporate income tax.
“Causing more losses to the treasury would be a reckless course. With the new massive tax cut, the state budget is projected by the impartial Kansas Legislative Research Department to spiral down to a shortfall of nearly $2.4 billion by 2018,” she said. “The state already is not going to be able to fund its core functions when it suffers this extreme loss of nearly half of its current state general fund.”
Schools will ultimately experience more cuts, she said.
“Even if Governor Sam Brownback’s optimistic prediction of 23,000 new jobs by 2020 comes true, each job will have to generate more than $108,000 in sales and income taxes each year to overcome the shortfall in state revenue created by the new tax cut plan,” Lusk said. “The state budget gap looms and projections are it will cause many more drastic K-12 cuts, because public school funding makes up close to half of the state budget.”
Brems acknowledged that she and her husband, Kirk Brems, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on Dec. 31, 2010. They filed weeks after a bank issued a petition to foreclose on their home. Court records show the couple had about $66,000 in secured mortgage debt and $55,076 in unsecured debt including credit card bills, medical expenses and more.
Brems said the debt was accumulated as she experienced significant colon problems and racked up medical bills. The family used credit cards to pay for things like groceries at the time. Part of the debt dates back to a dispute with a contractor that had been hired to remodel the family’s home, she said.
The bankruptcy report said that the family’s monthly income was also limited when her husband was charged with felony drunken driving and suspended without pay from his job as a driver. Kansas Department of Corrections records show that Kirk Brems was convicted of driving under the influence, fourth offense.
Brems said her health has improved and the family is working to pay their debt as the court has ordered. She said her husband’s conviction was a bad decision made worse because of mistakes her husband made years ago. It has been a learning experience for the family, she said.
The Star’s Robert A. Cronkleton contributed to this report.
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