Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2004

Education funding a hot-button topic

February 26, 2004

Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, told residents at a legislative forum Saturday morning in the Tonganoxie VFW post home that this year's session has been more exciting than recent years.

"I'm having more fun," Lyon said. "They say that's because it's an election year."

Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, and Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, also attended the forum, which was sponsored by First State Bank and the VFW.

As of Saturday, the Legislature was 41 days through this year's session -- with 49 days remaining.

According to Wilk, there are plenty of heated issues, but four are at the forefront right now -- the budget, education, transportation and economic development.

Of course, money has a hand in all four during the strained economic times.

"The budget is always a big issue," Wilk said. "When you're passing nearly a $10 billion budget, it's an issue. We've had three years of tough financial times."

Education was another issue on Wilk's list.

With Tonganoxie superintendent Richard Erickson and school board members in attendance, the hot topic was whether the schools would be getting any financial relief anytime soon.

The legislator said that issue still was being debated.

"We need to find some new money to put in the schools," Wilk said.

Cox, who is a former educator and school board member, said education must go hand-in-hand with another of Wilk's major issues -- economic development.

"Education is economic development," Cox said. "People moving into areas with families, they're looking into what quality education is there."

With economic development specifically, Wilk said economies needed to be improved in area cities. And those cities must become more than just commuter towns.

"The strategy of robbing thy neighbor to bring jobs to your community doesn't work," Wilk said.

The representative said intellectual property, capital and leadership were needed to succeed in building economic development.

Wilk also said the state's overall economy must diversify in future years.

"Gas and oil, aviation and agriculture," Wilk said. "They have been the pillars of our state economy for decades.

"And quite frankly, we haven't done much else to expand our economy."

Transportation is another hot topic in Topeka.

Wilk said it's important to put money back into that fund.

"We have a big hole in the transportation package we passed in 1999," Wilk said. "We raked a lot from transportation in the last three years. We're finding there are different views on how to do that."

Reps. Candy Ruff and Marti Crow, both D-Leavenworth, also were scheduled to attend Saturday's forum, but they spoke at a forum in Leavenworth.

Cox, a Jarbalo native, said he made the right choice between the two forums because of superior pastries.

"I don't think I have a single voter over here, but you have great cinnamon rolls and doughnuts," Cox said with a chuckle. "I go to Johnson County and they serve bagels. I hate bagels."

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