Democrats sign pledge of no more cuts to schools; Brownback declines to sign

Leading Kansas Democrats on Thursday signed a pledge to oppose any further budget cuts to public schools and criticized Republican gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback's position on education funding. Asked to sign the pledge by the Democrats, Brownback’s campaign declined and responded that growing the economy was needed to ensure schools are funded.

The Democrats also left areas on the pledge for House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, and Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, to sign.

Asked about it, O’Neal said, “Are they going to sign a pledge not to raise taxes?” Morris said that he hopes schools can be spared any further cuts but that he didn’t want to sign a pledge in case an emergency arose.

“I’m very supportive of K-through-12 and higher education,” he said.

Brownback has proposed a freeze in state spending, which his Democratic opponent Tom Holland said would result “in significant cuts to public schools” because it wouldn't replace federal funds to schools that will expire next year.

The Democrats also said Brownback's push for revamping the school finance formula means that local school districts will have to make up more of school funding through increases in property taxes.

Brownback has declined to specify what he thinks is wrong with the finance formula. He has also said he wants more dollars to reach the classroom.

When asked if he would sign the pledge presented by the Democrats, Brownback's spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag issued a statement, saying, “The greatest threat to education funding is the economic recession. Last year, Kansas lost more than 50,000 private sector jobs. The Road Map for Kansas provides detailed policy solutions necessary for growing our state’s economy and growing the economy is the best way to fund our schools.”

“Road Map for Kansas” is what Brownback calls his campaign proposals.

Holland, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence each signed the pledge during a news conference.

The three said that since the state has taken over more of the responsibility of funding the public school system, test scores on reading and math have increased significantly.

“We are already moving in the right direction, we can't turn back now,” said Holland.

Holland said he would increase funding to schools as the economy improves.

Because of recent budget cuts, the base state aid per pupil has dropped from $4,492 to $4,012.

By Scott Rothschild

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