Prairie Politics

AG’s brief on school finance cited testimony of Wichitans Chris Brown, Craig Gabel

Member of the State Finance Council discusses school financing options in August.
Member of the State Finance Council discusses school financing options in August. File photo

The Kansas Attorney General’s office cited testimony from two Wichita tea party activists in support of the state’s transition to block grant funding for schools when it filed a brief this week in the school finance case.

The brief filed by Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office argued that the Kansas Supreme Court should show deference to lawmakers, who decided to eliminate the state’s school finance formula this year in favor of block grants.

To support that argument, the brief touted the testimony lawmakers heard in support of block grants.

"While considerable media attention focused on the arguments advanced by detractors of this proposal – nearly all of whom are active participants in the status quo – far less public attention has been paid to the substance of the arguments advanced by proponents of the reforms – the arguments ultimately found persuasive by a majority of the Legislature and by the Governor,” the brief, which was filed Monday, states.

The brief lists the supporters: the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute and two Wichita activists, Chris Brown and Craig Gabel, representing the group Kansans for Liberty. The brief includes a URL address for each of their testimonies.

Gabel and Brown have each mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the Legislature in the past. Gabel, a restaurant owner, faced scrutiny for more than $100,000 in delinquent taxes he owed the county and state while seeking a seat in the 96th House District in 2012.

Two years later, Brown sought the same seat. Two weeks ahead of the Republican primary, a Sedgwick County judge ordered his assets seized because he owed a former business partner nearly $675,000.

Neither of the two men has a background in education or law.

Asked about the citation, Clint Blaes, a spokesman for Schmidt, said in an e-mail that “The State’s brief cited all testimony presented in support of SB 7. Because the testimony you mention was presented to the Legislature, it was included in the list.”

Gabel was surprised to learn that Schmidt’s office had cited his testimony when reached by phone. He would not comment specifically on the citation. He did say that he and Brown testified in support of the block grant bill out of a belief that the school finance system was deeply flawed and desperately needed reform.

Brown was also the sole proponent last year for a bill that would have barred a person from serving on a local school board if his or her spouse, sibling or parent worked for a school district.

Marcus Baltzell, spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in an e-mail that it’s “frightening and sad for our students that the AG of KS would elevate the testimony of a fringe special interest group ABOVE that of dedicated professionals who live the reality of the modern classroom everyday.”

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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