Last week we completed the listening tour, visiting 56 towns in nine counties, taking seven days and over 1500 miles. We met many wonderful people and heard many concerns and stories, even a love story.
Budget and tax issues are really the only remaining details that must be solved when we return to Topeka this week. At almost every tour stop I asked my constituents what they thought about the level of the sales tax rate. Should it decrease to 5.7% or remain at 6.3% allowing further decreases in income tax rates, which should stimulate economic growth? This single issue is the most contentious disagreement between the House and Senate which must be resolved before we can leave Topeka. Almost everyone said to leave it where it is, confirming my view that the sales tax rate is a non-issue with most Kansans.
Many public school superintendents, school board members, one school board president, and several teachers that identified themselves came out to the meetings. One of the main things I learned on the tour had to do with public school finance. I continually hear, mainly from school employees and the media, about the drastic cuts to school finance in recent years. Only problem is, there have been no such cuts in overall school funding. Most reductions in the funding of my districts are due to decreasing enrollment. However, I heard of significant cuts in the last five years in districts with steady enrollment. It appears that one of the effects of the last school finance lawsuit, settled in 2004, was that the midsized districts (who are the main ones that brought the lawsuit) are making the best gains in funding. Previous to this suit we had been trying to help the small districts with high rates of declining enrollment and also to help the large districts, those who were dealing with large increases in enrollment. Our neglect of the districts that were status quo was one of the points of the lawsuit.
Thus, my small rural districts are being hurt and actually are in danger of further damage as a result of the second, current school finance lawsuit.
One suggestion I have made is that they should consider applying to become one of the “innovative districts” under the new pilot legislation passed this year.
Maybe by getting out from under most state mandates, many of which are aimed at urban schools, they could much more efficiently do their job of educating our rural children.
Drug testing of those who receive public assistance was at the top of many people’s interests and people appreciated the action taken this year by the legislature. Many did not agree, however, with the way we bend over backwards to accommodate those who test positive for drugs. I explained that we must meet judicial muster. Many are also concerned with the way public assistance money is spent, or misspent.
Page 2 of 2 - Here again, pleasing the courts and the federal government ties our hands in many ways. However, come next session you can bet that I will be looking for ways to better control how such money is spent.
The eras of my life can be characterized by what I have learned from them. In our years in Wilson County, where all Renee’s family hails, I have learned about growing old, learned to see in the eyes of the elderly, the young people that they once were, and still are inside. I learned that love stories whether at age 15, 55, or 85 are not much different.
I cannot share the details, for it is not mine to share, of the man who never married but waited and prayed daily for the woman he loved for 65 years before now resuming that relationship. This is just one example of the many personal stories that you shared with us. What a privilege to know and serve so many great people of the 14th Kansas Senate District, the Tall Grass District.
For all our time and travel, I know that many of you still were not able to come out and meet us. That is why I remain accessible via email email@example.com, via phone at 620 636 0051, or you can mail a letter to me at 17120 Udall Rd., Altoona, KS 66710.