KNEA considered school bill vote when endorsing candidates

07/15/2014 6:44 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

After months of saying teachers would show their discontent with the Legislature at the polls, the state’s largest teachers union endorsed a slate of candidates for the Kansas House on Tuesday.

The Kansas National Education Association’s political action committee is backing 73 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the Aug. 5 primary. The KNEA bases its endorsements on interviews candidates hold with educators in their districts.

“We make our recommendations through a deliberative process and in the light of day,” KNEA vice president Mark Farr said in a release.

Farr decried what he called “consistent attacks on public schools by Governor Brownback and his allies in the legislature.”

The Legislature linked a provision that ended state-mandated hearings before public school teachers can be fired to a Supreme Court-ordered fix for school funding. Brownback signed the bill into law after weeks of protest by teachers in April.

The KNEA endorsed incumbent candidates who opposed the bill and is backing challengers of the bill’s supporters.

The association endorsed Eric Henderson in the Republican primary in House District 91. He is taking on Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee and shepherded HB2506 through the House.

The KNEA chose Barbara Bunting, the former chairwoman of the Newton school board, in the Republican primary over Rep. Marc Rhoades of Newton, who preceded Suellentrop as Appropriations chairman before stepping down in March.

Rhoades pushed for several controversial education reforms to be included in the bill.

The association endorsed Andrew Lawson in House District 80. He is running against Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, in the primary. Kelley, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, has advocated expanding privately run but publicly funded charter schools. She was a major proponent of a policy included in the school finance bill that grants tax breaks to corporations that donate to private school scholarship funds.

The union is supporting Wichita Reps. Carolyn Bridges, John Carmichael, Gail Finney, Roderick Houston, Tom Sawyer, Pat Sloop, Ponka-We Victors, Jim Ward and Brandon Whipple, all Democrats who voted against the school finance bill.

It did not endorse Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita, the only Wichita Republican in the House who voted against the bill; it chose instead to support one of his two Democratic opponents, Steven G. Crum, who is a teacher in Haysville.

Mark Desetti, the KNEA’s legislative director, had told The Eagle in May that the association would support candidates that supported teachers. “Regardless of party affiliation, regardless of anything else, if you stand up for schools, we’ll stand up for you,” he said then.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. Statements attributed to him in the union’s announcement emphasize that the decisions on endorsements are member-driven.

“Candidates are asked to participate in an interview process with a team of educators who reside in the candidate’s district,” Desetti said in the announcement. “From those interviews, we look at a broad scope of factors to determine which candidates show the greatest support for Kansas public schools.”

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