Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Than Numbers: Kansas school finance fight sweeps in abortion & other issues

On the surface, it looks like the Statehouse battle over raising funding for K-12 schools is an argument about nothing more than numbers. Watch closely, though. Some lawmakers are intent on sliding whatever they can into the funding plan. House members have already attempted to slip an abortion measure into the funding bill.

AP reports that on Tuesday the House voted 79-49 to add an amendment to the school finance bill that would require sex education courses to focus on what some might call scare tactics about abortion.

Teachers would have to show photos or drawings of fetuses, discuss the medical risks associated with abortion procedures and provide information about whether the fetus feels pain.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have also added proposals that would “give school districts more authority to increase local property taxes” (Topeka Capital-Journal report). I swear I heard a report of another proposal on another topic being slipped into a spending bill, but I can’t seem to verify that this morning.

So far, none of the bills has gotten past more than one chamber of the legislature. It takes approval by both House and Senate to pass a bill and send it to the governor. Senate and House negotiators didn’t even begin meeting to work out their differences until yesterday.

Why does this matter? Because now is the time for all good citizens to pay attention. I watched the Legislature for years as a reporter and later as a political activist. From what I can tell, all the preliminary bouts, as it were, are finally out of the way.

We’re at the end of the tournament in the Statehouse. All the things that happened up to this point were merely the feints and jabs lawmakers use to figure out what proposal might win approval or what vote might set up a political opponent for a difficult election fight. (The tried and true get-the-fool-on-the-record-in-an-unpopular-vote strategy.)

The next few days will tell the tale, though. This is when the final deals get made or fall apart. Some of the deal making may occur in public in negotiating committee meetings, but it’s quite likely that the more important talks are going on in private.

At stake is whether Kansas children will receive an adequately funded education and what the content of that education might be, not to mention what might else get slid into the bill at the last minute.

For those of you reading this from outside of the great state of Kansas, watch closely. The Kansas Legislature has turned into a battleground between the the ultra-conservatives who never met a government function or a civil right they liked and moderates (both Republican and Democrat). That Kansas far right is kin to the George W. Bush administration, the neocons, the theocons and theocrats who are populating Washington, D.C., these days

The outcome of this debate tells you something about the strength of the far right out here in the American heartland and, perhaps, that will say something about the strength of the far right going into November elections.

Stay tuned. Pay attention. And for you Kansans, pick up the phone and call your senators and representatives NOW.

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