First and foremost, Susan and I wish you and your family a very happy Easter as we celebrate with our own family this weekend. I would ask that we all keep our neighbors in our thoughts and prayers. The grass fires have been devastating to so many people, ranches, farms and cattle. We can be thankful for the volunteer firefighters, neighbors and friends who are working so hard to extinguish the blazes.
If you are interested in contributing to help the families, firefighters, farmers and ranchers affected, one way is through the South Central Community Foundation in Pratt. Go to www.sccfks.org
and click on the Donate tab or call 620-672-7929.
The Legislature is on Spring Break for most of April. The past few weeks have seen more than their fair share of proposals and votes. But I want to highlight a few that are important to our District including some special guests we have had visit us in Topeka.
We had pages this week: Braden Witt; Hudson, Susan & Greg, Joel Hendershot; Pratt, Kerisa Brown; St. John, Jessica DeWeese; Pratt. We have exceptional young people in our District, they are youth to be proud of.
Richard Hawley, a staff member, and some clients from Arrowhead West, Pratt & Medicine Lodge stopped by. They were here for a rally for Kansans with Disabilities. It was a joy to visit with them and hear their concerns.
I am proud to say that with a lot of hard work, we successfully protected 50 beds across the state in youth residential centers (YRC II’s). These centers serve as an alternative to sending troubled minors directly to detention with the hopes of re-integrating these young men more easily back into their homes if possible and society (thus saving taxpayers money). I have been engaged with the Pratt County Achievement Place (our local YRC II) since last fall. Toni Perez and her board armed me with all the necessary information so that I could lobby the House committee members to prevent a complete shut-down of all 180 beds in Kansas. Along the way, Judge Timarie Walters also expressed her great concerns about losing these beds and sending these young men directly to prison. Toni came up to testify and we had numerous written testimonies of support for her facility. With the help of Toni and many other people, we can count this as a win for the young men who are served by these facilities.
Moving to education, the House recently voted to continue using Common Core Education Standards. This is an issue that arose the same night I was elected to this position. I told everyone present for the Precinct Vote that I would study the issue and learn about the concerns on both sides of the issue. Over the past year I spent time with the educators and school boards in our District to see what they had to say about Common Core. They all pointed out very positive aspects with the Common Core that Kansas has adopted. As with all standards there are some negatives but these local education experts assure me that the positive far outweigh what few negative aspects there may be.
My decision to vote to continue using Common Core standards was not easy and I know my opponents will twist this vote for their political gain. However, to throw the baby out with the bathwater without a plan to save the baby is of little positive gain.
We elect our local school boards and we do so because we know and trust them. They are people committed to our students, staff, schools and communities. Should at some point in time we choose to move away from Common Core Standards, we need a plan developed with ALL the players involved, and we need the money to do it with.
Another education item that we have voted on is in response to the Supreme Court ruling that we are not equitably funding schools between rich and poor districts. On the last day of our regular session, a proposal came over from the Senate to address the ruling and keep our schools open to students. I voted yes in order to ensure that our schools remain open and hope that we can create a Constitutional fix in the veto session. The Court could likely determine this “fix” to not be sufficient. It provides no relief to the unequal tax burden facing certain districts in our state and perpetuates funding levels already ruled unconstitutional. However, there is nothing more important than ensuring our children have access to public education. Alternate options exist but this was the only one we were given a chance to vote on.
I hope to see many of you around the District as we will be home for a while between now and late April’s Veto Session. Again, Susan and I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Blessed Easter. Enjoy this special celebration and remembrance with family and friends.