TOPEKA — A small group of parents and teachers completed a two-day, 65-mile march on the Capitol on Monday to dramatize their call for more and fairer funding for public schools.
The five marchers from the group Game On for Kansas Schools were joined by about 50 supporters, who walked with them from the Kansas Supreme Court building to the Statehouse.
The activists hope to influence the ongoing debate in the Legislature about how to comply with a Supreme Court decision last month that found portions of the state’s school funding formula unconstitutional. The court said that the money is not being distributed fairly, which is harming the state’s smaller and poorer school districts.
About a dozen lawmakers attended the group’s Capitol news conference.
The Supreme Court ruling has directed lawmakers to fix the inequities by July 1. The Department of Education has estimated that would cost $129 million.
Factions in the Legislature are locked in a dispute over whether to add money for schools or shift existing funding.
Once the fairness issues are fixed, the case will go back to a trial court to determine whether the overall funding of schools is adequate.
Game On says it will take money to fix what’s wrong with the schools.
One of the marchers, Shawnee Mission teacher Josh Greaves, said his classes have gone from a maximum of about 20 students to 28 or 29.
“Something has got to change, because if you start adding any more students, it’s so difficult, there’s usually only one teacher in a room, and how can you expect one teacher to meet every single need?” he said.
The march that ended Monday retraced the steps of Heather Ousley, a Merriam mother who by herself walked from Johnson County to the Capitol last year to bring attention to the same issue.
“I did this for my kids and for everybody’s kids, and this for me was a big leap of hope, because my kids have their entire education ahead of them,” Ousley said. “My oldest is in third grade, and my youngest hasn’t even started kindergarten yet, and so I really feel like we need to do something now.”
Game On is hoping to generate interest through its activism and social media to encourage parents to contact lawmakers and demand more money for schools, said Judith Deedy, an organizer of the group.
“I had never contacted a legislator two years ago, so I understand very well … that encouragement they need that this is a normal thing to do,” Deedy said.
Two Goddard school board members, Gail Jamison and Kevin McWhorter, walked the final few hundred yards to the Capitol with the marchers.
“We’re here as school board members to basically support a voice for public education,” said Jamison, who carried a sign reading “Goddard advocates for public education.”
“We have been following Game On for Kansas and their advocacy efforts, and we are also advocating to help people (gain) better understanding of the issues in order to be more informed and make their voices heard,” she said.
Added McWhorter: “We believe every schoolchild has a birthright to a quality education, equally funded and adequately funded. And it’s not happening now.”