Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is there is actually some difference on the issues between these candidates. Merit pay is such an issue. Casanova and Hedke are in favor of merit pay; Wiggins believes it has merit but would be difficult to implement; and Dennis and Chappell are opposed — strongly, in my judgment — to merit pay.
There is also disagreement about consolidation of school districts. Chappell has the most ambitious plan, calling to reduce the number of school districts from the current 298 to 40, with each district having at least 10,000 students. He doesn’t want to close any schools, just consolidate the districts. He believes this will save $350 million per year. Those savings would not be returned to the taxpayers. Instead, they would be spent on other things in the public schools.
All candidates agree that our public schools are underfunded.
All agree either that the federal No Child Left Behind legislation is flawed or is not working as intended.
All believe that teachers need to be paid more. Some mentioned an easier path to teacher certification for those people who are interested in teaching but don’t have a degree in education.
There were a few notable remarks. Chappell believes in transparency, something that is in short supply in the Wichita public school district. Casanova said he’d do a good job on the board because “my kids” are in the public schools and that is a highly motivating factor. This reveals how the public schools are simply another special interest group.
Wiggins made a very curious remark, saying several times that local school districts “own their own business.” This analogy or comparison is false. What type of business has a government-mandated monopoly on the use of public funds for education, those funds raised by the coercive force of government?
My questions for the candidates, submitted in writing, were these (as best as I can remember): “What will you do to help Kansas families who, for whatever reason, decide they can’t use product the public schools produce, but can’t afford private or parochial school tuition?” Also “In Minneapolis, students can attend schools in any district as long as there are open seats. Would you support this in Kansas?” The moderator chose not to submit these questions to the candidates.