Caitlin Trujillo
Guest Columnist
I moved to Gardner 12 years ago from Los Angeles. Starting seventh grade, I expected to undergo some degree of culture shock — you don’t move from a beach town to the prairie plains and expect your lifestyle to remain intact — and for the transition to a new school to be especially bumpy. But my educational experience in the Gardner Edgerton School District ended up starkly contrasted with my California experience in all the best ways. I thrived at Wheatridge and Gardner Edgerton High School in ways I previously had not with the encouragement of teachers, faculty, and even other students. Learning gave me a sense of pride, as if my academic success mattered to my development as a person instead of just as a goal to its own end. When my classmates and I did well, we all celebrated — not just our own individual successes, but our collective achievements especially.
I say this not to disparage my elementary school education in California — the teachers worked just as hard as those here — but to indicate what a culture of investment in public education can do for students. I learned early on that, if there was one topic Kansans could all come together and agree on, it was the importance of public education to our communities. Parents have a high investment in their children’s educations, and every Kansan has a similar investment in the training of a well-educated work force, the boon of any competitive economy.
I am worried that culture of valuing education is fading. Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state government needed to address inequities in school funding. But when the legislature finally moved to restore the funds, it bundled with it measures that will further gut public education, such as the removal of due process rights for teachers and the issuance of tax breaks to businesses that donate to private school scholarships. And with tax revenues in our state falling below projections, we might expect to see more budget cuts even after the Court mandated increased funding.
It confuses me that my opponent in the Kansas House, Rep. Bill Sutton, opted not to vote on this bill when the time came. Nor has he vocalized, to my knowledge, any opposition to the ways in which an appropriations bill was tied so extricably to radical policy that needed more time for discussion and debate — time the legislature simply couldn’t afford with a July 1 deadline. He has, however, championed harmful legislation that has starved our state budget and risked bankruptcy, targeted citizens for discrimination on the basis of arbitrary social mores, and stripped local control of public safety away from our communities.
I believe the Kansas government has shifted away from true Kansas values. Voices from political extremes are dominating the floor. We need more moderate representation in the legislature that responsibly handles the issues that impact Kansans most. Governor Sam Brownback has suggested we hit the accelerator on what we’re doing. I would instead propose that we shift gears and change course. If we work to pass sensible and responsible legislation that prioritizes education, growth, and community, I strongly believe Kansas will remain one of the best places in the country to live and grow up.
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