Teacher licensing has played a key part of the race to represent District 2 on the Kansas Board of Education.
The race features Republican Steve Roberts, a math tutor and political newcomer, and Democrat Cindy Neighbor, who is in her 16th year as an at-large Shawnee Mission school board member and is a former Kansas House member.
The two disagree strongly on teacher licensing.
Roberts, whose campaign slogan is “better schools, fewer rules,” said teacher licensing is one area where Kansans could be better served by limited government.
The Overland Park conservative wants to ease restrictions for professionals who want to teach in secondary schools. The state, he said, focuses too much on teaching methods and pedagogy and not enough on industry experience.
“There’s this common wisdom that isn’t very wise that says the more training we give a teacher the better they’re going to be, and it just doesn’t work that way,” he said.
Some experts in science and math must go through unnecessary training before leading classrooms, he said. Districts like Blue Valley might not have a hard time recruiting highly qualified chemistry teachers, he said. But poor districts, he said, struggle to find teachers with basic science certification.
“Forcing all teachers to have a prescribed amount of teaching in order to qualify is counterproductive and it hurts our poorest neighborhoods the most,” he said.
Neighbor said Roberts’ plan to loosen standards for teachers ignores the expectations that parents in Johnson County and across the state have for their children.
“When you hire a teacher you want the best of the best,” she said.
She disputes Roberts’ notion that Kansas does not welcome professionals into schools. His assessment, she said, ignores the plan already in place in Kansas that allows qualified professionals to teach as they obtain a two-year degree.
Neighbor offered high praise for her grandchild’s teacher, who is one of those professionals in training. The teacher must learn about classroom management and modern-day practices. The training is essential, she said.
“Our classrooms are not like they were when I was in school,” she said.
A typical classroom blends students with a broad range of abilities and teachers need to be able to meet the needs of everyone, including special-education children. Few professionals could walk in off the street and juggle that responsibility without some guidance, she said.
Neighbor said she would be a moderate voice for Johnson County. The Shawnee woman said she would work to preserve local control for taxpayers.
“I look at all of my service as preparing me to be a strong voice for local control, supporting the best curriculum so our children and grandchildren are prepared for careers, and balancing the financial requirements of our individual districts with the state’s ability to adequately fund quality schools,” she said.
Roberts said he would be a voice for the poorest students. He has pushed for more personal responsibility and less government.
“I think we’re going to save a lot more kids with love than we are with legislation,” he said.
Roberts also wants to eliminate the federal free and reduced-cost lunch program, which he calls wasteful. Instead, Roberts wants local school districts to offer free lunch for everyone just as it provides heat and other basic services.
Neighbor said the idea threatens school funding and adds an unfunded mandate to local schools.
“The cost of that is huge,” she said. “If we had that much money, let’s put it in all-day kindergarten.”
As it stands, she said, lunch programs are financially self-sustaining in Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission. Few school districts could absorb the additional costs, she said.
Neighbor has long also advocated for better funding in education.
Roberts said he believes that in his neighborhood the schools are not underfunded.
Both candidates said they would closely monitor Common Core standards to make sure the curriculum doesn’t interfere with local ideas and perspectives. Both took firm stances against teaching alternatives to evolution in science.
District 2 Representative Sue Storm did not seek re-election.
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