Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday called on Kansas officials to stop being distracted by “key issues” in education, sharply rebuking a Republican-controlled Legislature that is pursuing policies that cater to conservative parents disgruntled with public schools. .
Kelly used his annual State of the State address to condemn what he called efforts to “turn parents against teachers” and “turn communities against their schools.” She wasn’t specific, but top Republicans vowed to follow several ideas currently in vogue in GOP-led states, including restrictions on what K-12 public schools can teach about gender and sexuality.
Republican lawmakers plan to pursue a measure that would allow parents to reclaim tax dollars previously earmarked for public schools to cover home or private education costs. The GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature approved that plan early Tuesday. Kelly is strongly opposed to the idea.
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Kelly also toughened her tone in advocating for the legalization of marijuana for medical uses, calling the state’s current ban “ridiculous.” She highlighted the case of a terminally ill man who had police raid his room at a Northwest Kansas hospital because he was using marijuana extracts to relieve his pain.
The Democratic governor’s tough speech on these issues contrasted with her exaltation of the search for middle ground policies elsewhere in Tuesday night’s speech before a joint session of the House and Senate. She also called for continued bipartisanship in her inaugural address that opened her second four-year term earlier this month.
“We can all agree that our children do better when parents and teachers are involved in their education,” Kelly said in the prepared text of her speech. “So instead of getting distracted by wedge issues, let’s focus on giving them the resources and support they need.”
Kelly was scheduled to give the state of the state on January 11, but tested positive for COVID-19 the day before, only to learn later that it was a false positive. His office went ahead with the release of its proposed $24.1 billion state budget for fiscal year 2024 effective July 1.
The state is flush with cash, and Kelly had already proposed a series of tax cuts, including eliminating the 4% state sales tax on groceries on April 1. Republican leaders are pushing a proposal for Kansas to have a “flat” income tax. , with one rate each for individual and corporate filers, instead of three for individuals and two for corporations.
Republicans outlined an agenda two weeks ago that includes measures popular with conservative Republicans in many other states, including banning transgender athletes from K-12 and women’s sports, clubs and universities. Kelly has vetoed two previous proposals.
In the official Republican response, recorded two weeks ago, Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said that under Kelly, the state is on track to turn K-12 schools “into little more than factories for a radical social agenda”. Masterson has said he wants to seek restrictions on how public schools discuss gender and sexuality, like what critics call Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Kelly stated, “Know this: I will oppose any effort designed to turn parents against teachers, communities against their schools, alienating young people from the teaching profession.”
State Rep. Kristey Williams, a Wichita-area Republican who chairs a House committee on K-12 spending, said she is working on a plan for parent education savings accounts, using tax dollars. Masterson said the GOP “will be focused on students, not legacy systems.”
“We want a high-quality, classical education that is focused on academic excellence, preparing our children for successful futures, not the sexualized agenda we see permeating the system today,” Masterson said.
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Kelly’s speech came just hours after hundreds of abortion opponents and parochial school students rallied outside the Statehouse to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade last Sunday, which the US Supreme Court overturned last year. But Kansas anti-abortion groups suffered a decisive political loss in August, when a statewide vote strongly affirmed the protection of abortion rights under the Kansas Constitution.
Kelly applauded the August vote, but did not mention abortion in the State of the State address. Republican lawmakers hope to push millions of dollars in new funding for anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, opened his remarks at the anti-abortion rally with “Good afternoon, warriors of God!” and promised: “We will continue to fight.”
Every year Kelly has been in office, he has called on lawmakers to expand Medicaid as encouraged by the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010 championed by former President Barack Obama. Republicans strongly opposed to the measure have held enough key leadership positions to block the expansion, even as voters in other Republican-leaning states have embraced it, including Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Kelly has also pushed lawmakers to legalize marijuana for medical uses. While the House passed a plan in 2021, it never got even a committee vote in the Senate.
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“Every day, thousands of Kansans are forced to choose between breaking the law and living without pain,” Kelly said. “It’s an unbearable choice, and absolutely unnecessary.”