Conservative group plans public forum on education

TOPEKA — The leader of a conservative think tank is promising that a proposed forum on the future of education in Kansas will present various viewpoints, but some state education officials are skeptical.

The Kansas Policy Institute has invited several education officials to participate in the open forum, although a specific time and date has not been set.

KPI recently held events across the state that featured Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute, who discussed how Kansas could learn from the reforms he said increased fourth-grade reading scores in Florida. The Wichita-based organization also has argued in recent years that Kansas school districts spend far beyond the state aid they receive in base state aid per pupil.

Those stances raised concern for members of the Kansas State Board of Education, which received a letter from KPI president Dave Trabert inviting the board to the forum.

"My biggest worry is that it wouldn't be a fair and balanced presentation," board chairman Dave Dennis said.

But Trabert said he is planning a meeting this week to discuss a possible agenda and Dennis is invited. He also invited state board of education vice chair Carolyn Campbell; Kansas education commissioner Diane DeBacker; KNEA president Blake West; and Fred Patton, president of the Kansas Association of School Boards.

"We suggested this (public forum). We're not trying to run this," Trabert said. "It's open to the public. The goal is to get the facts. There's lots of ways to interpret facts."

Board member Ken Willard said the board should be open to KPI's invitation.

"I suspect this (public forum) will take place, whether we attend or not," he said. "I think we have to take every opportunity to make our positions clear. To not participate because we're fearful of what might happen, I don't think that's constructive. We should be a player."

Trabert said he would bring in a neutral facilitator to make all sides comfortable with the event, which he wants to schedule "sooner rather than later."

Patton, the KASB president, said he's willing to discuss education with everyone.

"There is a need to do things differently but I don't know if we'll see eye to eye on it," Patton said. "It would be wrong for our kids not to have these conversations. We need to figure out the best way to educate kids in Kansas and then put a price tag on it."