Kansas lawmakers should listen to 17-year-old Republican gubernatorial candidate Tyler Ruzich. If they did, they might rethink their determination to fund public schools at a level the Kansas State Supreme Court has once again found to be so inadequate it’s unconstitutional.
“I don’t think we’re spending enough at all,’’ said Ruzich, a junior at Shawnee Mission North. Though you’d never know that, he added, from “the way it’s been phrased and advertised to the public by our current administration.”
The soon-to-be former Gov. Sam Brownback and his team prefer to focus on “the percentage we’re spending on education — of the overall budget, it’s about 48 percent. And in a state that was gaining and getting a consistent flow of tax revenue, which we are not, that would be an immense amount of money in education, and would be an education system envied by all the other states in the union.”
But Ruzich, who himself is an excellent advertisement for a public school education, instead sees schools closing and cutting back on individualized instruction and spending less than half per pupil than, say, the state of New York does. “I do see it with my own eyes,’’ said the self-described moderate Republican, who works after school in a Hy-Vee supermarket and then reads a few state budget documents before bed, as his campaign-prep homework.
One of his gubernatorial rivals, Jack Bergeson, a 16-year-old from Wichita who is running as a Democrat, agrees that school financing has “been an issue throughout this administration, and we have to look at tax hikes” to get Kansas back to where it was before Brownback’s deep and destructive tax cuts.
Even after this year’s $1.2 billion, two-year tax increase, income tax rates in Kansas remain far lower than they were five years ago. And as we’ve said before, it would take at least another $600 million just to get back to the school funding level of the mid-2000s.
These candidates are true outsiders, but instead of promising to blow the system up, they are inviting young voters in, encouraging them to play their rightful part in our democracy. “I don’t really care what party they register,’’ said Bergeson, who is trying to motivate those old enough to vote to see that yes, there is a point to doing that. Even if, as Bergeson says of school financing, “there’s no easy way to fix it, and I don’t have the solution yet.”
They don’t all agree, even on this issue. Ethan Randleas, a 17-year-old Wichita Republican running as a “conservatarian” has the darkest view of all three teen candidates of the current situation. “High school really is dismal,’’ he said.
But to him, it’s not under-funding that’s the problem, but the lack of school choice, the number of “lazy” teachers who “hate their jobs,” the misallocation of resources on extravagances like computers and whiteboards in every classroom, and compulsory education that in his view forces teachers to waste time “trying to teach kids who don’t want to be there.”
While we don’t agree with that view of teachers, students or solutions, we’re glad he, Bergeson and Ruzich are running, and hope they’ll spur their peers and shame their elders into acting.