Kansas teachers protest governor in Topeka
Topeka Teachers and education advocates protested Saturday at the Kansas Statehouse against what they described as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies attacking public schools.
The rally, which drew about 300 people, came on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. Participants suggested that a lack of adequate funding for America’s public schools is preventing the U.S. from fulfilling the Brown decision’s promise of equal educational opportunities for all children.
But the protest on the Statehouse grounds also became a rally for the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who made remarks. Other speakers criticized Brownback and fellow GOP conservatives who control the Legislature as participants held anti-Brownback signs.
The rally was sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers and the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Kansas National Education Association. They’re critical of Brownback for championing massive personal income tax cuts and for signing legislation this year to end guaranteed tenure for public school teachers and give tax credits to corporations that bankroll private-school scholarships for at-risk students.
The Brown case takes its name from a federal lawsuit filed in 1951 by black parents in Topeka who challenged the city’s segregated schools. A former all-black elementary school in Topeka is now a national park site dedicated to the history of the ruling and the civil rights movement.
“We must fund our public schools, and we must give children the ladder of education and economic opportunity,” said Randi Weingarten, the AFT’s national president. “That is the moral imperative of Brown v. Board of Education.”
Brownback last month signed legislation boosting aid to poor school districts to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order from March in a lawsuit that parents and school districts filed in 2010. However, educators don’t believe it is enough to adequately fund schools, and the teacher tenure and corporate tax-credit measures were attached.
But Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley pointed to state data showing that school districts have added more than 600 teachers since the 2010-11 school year, when the governor took office. And the Shawnee Mission district in Johnson County, one of the state’s largest, agreed to its first pay raises for teachers in four years.
Hawley said Brownback wants to get more money into classrooms and his priority is “more and better-paid teachers.”
Davis and other critics of the income tax cuts argue that they benefited mostly the wealthy — which Brownback disputes — and diverts revenues from public schools.
“Brownback is trying to take us back to the old days, but we’re not going back,” the Rev. Reuben Eckels, co-pastor at the New Day Christian Church in Wichita, said during the rally.
But Clay Barker, the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director, said of the governor, “He doesn’t want to go back. He just wants to try something — a different approach.”