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Educate Lawrence invites public participation in state legislation (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to express their views, provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section, or see how to submit your own piece.

Educate Lawrence, a community advocacy group sponsored by the Lawrence school board, is gearing up for an eventful legislative season.

Committees are working on more than 20 bills affecting school funding that will soon be up for votes by the Kansas House or Senate. Educate Lawrence is working closely with school board members and parent groups to bring awareness to the Lawrence community, and the group invites additional public participation throughout this legislative season.  

Anne Costello, Educate Lawrence member and Lawrence Public Schools parent, said about the upcoming legislation related to vouchers, “Public schools are already underfunded and it concerns me that bills HB 2218 and SB 83 will cut funding from our public schools.”

“These bills could be particularly harmful for districts like Lawrence who have had to make painful cuts recently due to declining enrollment,” Costello continued. “Private schools are not required to accept all students, are not required to participate in state testing, and are not held to the same accountability standards. There is no oversight to ensure private school students are succeeding. Public tax dollars should be used to fund public schools who accept all students and are held accountable for student outcomes. I’m writing to the legislators and committee members to let them know my thoughts. I encourage others to do the same.”

Spending cuts affect our kids

USD 497 has been reeling from the effects of the Brownback-era spending cuts and how they are affecting our district today. With the current level of state funding for public education, the Lawrence community faces challenges in meeting the increasing needs of students and rising school operational costs, including funding necessary to recruit and retain teaching staff.

The state’s per-pupil general operating funds fall below inflation-adjusted 2009 levels. Although the Legislature has been increasing special education funding, the amount has not kept up with the cost of these services nor the Legislature’s commitment in state law.

Educate Lawrence offers a chance for community advocacy for school funding before it’s too late.

Norine Spears has been involved with Educate Lawrence since 2012 and is re-engaging the group after a break due to COVID-19.

“I’m really excited about the amount of interest from our school communities right now about funding and policy at the State level,” Spears said. 

Voucher bills

Three key bills are being heard in committees this month which are directly related to school funding, vouchers, and tax credits for pupils privately schooled: SB 83, HB 2218, and SB 128.

Lawrence school board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood offered written and oral testimony last week to the Kansas Senate Education Committee.

“The U.S. Constitution should be at the centerpiece for debate and decisionmaking in the consideration for SB 83,” Cadue-Blackwood said in her testimony. “Voucher schools are allowed to discern and/or discriminate against students with disabilities, LGBTQ+2s, color, race, economic background or religious background or anyone else the school disfavors. You were elected to utilize our taxes to the fullest extent. I urge this committee to vote ‘no’ on SB 83.”

Trans sports bills

Educate Lawrence is also working on community advocacy for the upcoming so-called trans sports bill, HB 2238, which aims to require that girls and women’s student athletic teams only include members who are “biologically female.”

“Lawrence Board of Education Policy prohibits discrimination against any individual on the basis of gender identity or gender expression,” Spears said. “This anti-transgender bill will hurt our LGBTQ youth and families, public education, and the Kansas economy.”

The next meeting for Educate Lawrence is at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20 at the USD 497 district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Families of USD 497 students are encouraged to participate in this process. 

Educate Lawrence has a signup form for email alerts and posts regular updates on its Facebook page, facebook.com/EducateLawrence

— Elizabeth Garrett Christensen (she/her) is a Lawrence Public Schools parent, serving the Billy Mills Cougar Parent Organization, the Lawrence High Lion’s Pride PTO, and Educate Lawrence. 

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