Kansas Gov. Calls For Improved Education, Continued Economic Growth

Following is the full text of Gov. Bill Graves' State of the State Address on Jan. 8:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Madame Chief Justice, Members of the Legislature, and Fellow Kansans:

It is a great honor for me to join you to discuss the status of our great state. Allow me to once again thank you for the honor of being your Governor and express how proud Linda, Katie and I are to be the first family of Kansas. Linda, on behalf of all Kansans, thank you for your great work in restoring the Governor's residence.

Congratulations and welcome to the new members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. You have been afforded the great honor of representing your fellow Kansans -- a special honor bestowed upon a very few. And from all of us who have been given the opportunity to perform public service, thanks go to our families who make a tremendous sacrifice so that we may serve our state.

On January 29th, we will celebrate the 140th birthday of Kansas. Our founders would be amazed at how great our state has become and proud of the current stewardship of their dreams. In our 140th year, I am pleased to report that never before have Kansans been better served by the variety and quality of state programs. From infrastructure to human services, Kansans benefit more than at any time in our state's history. Our private sector is creating jobs, income and economic success at record numbers. Our charitable and not-for-profit groups continue to expand and excel in their mission to serve our fellow Kansans. Our K-12 schools are tied for fourth in the nation for highest percentage of student graduation; our students exceed the national average on ACT and SAT test scores; and the 2000 Kansas Children's Report Card awarded our state an A-minus for its success in education. Our community colleges and technical schools are effectively changing to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Our universities consistently receive national recognition of their students, faculty and programs.

In the past several years, we have witnessed and been a force behind improvements in a number of areas that touch many Kansans and their futures. It's important to recognize these accomplishments in order to establish a perspective -- to know how far we've come enables us to better understand where we must go.

We have dramatically increased our commitment to Kansans who deserve special support with much of our emphasis on our most precious resource -- our children. Over the last six years, we have tripled funding for a program that teaches parents how to be better teachers to their children. In special education, six years ago, 67,000 students were served by 8,200 teachers at a cost of $205 million. Now, 10,000 more students are served by 2,700 additional teachers at a cost of $312 million. That's a 15 percent increase in special education students served by a 33 percent increase in teachers at a cost of 52 percent more.

A few years ago only 44 counties had family preservation services. Today all 105 have it available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The result is more children in their homes, not in foster care. Since the beginning of our community services partnership, adoptions have increased 78 percent.

During the last six years, funding for locally based community mental health services has nearly doubled from $57 million to over $109 million, and funding for programs serving people with developmental disabilities has increased by 160 percent to $186 million.

Six years ago, only 41,000 claims worth under $2 million were filed by Kansans for our food sales tax rebate. For 2002, as a result of my Administration's actions to make access easier, we can expect 235,000 claims worth $22.5 million.

Six years ago, there was no state program providing a tax credit to low-income Kansans. Next year, 125,000 low-income Kansans will receive earned income tax credits of $21 million.

We have accomplished all this and much more and still achieved a fiscal record that Standard & Poor's has rewarded with a AA-plus issuer-credit rating. In issuing that rating, Standard & Poor's pointed out a number of positive factors including:

  • Continued economic diversification and growth.

  • A debt burden that is one of the lowest per capita debt ratios in the nation.

  • Conservative fiscal management that has maintained financial stability through a short-term revenue crunch.

  • Good liquidity ensured by statutorily mandated cash reserves.

  • Continued economic diversification and growth.

    While we take pride in what has been done, we also are aware there is no finish line to what we do. We are engaged in a process that is continuous, one in which, even as challenges are addressed, new challenges appear on the horizon. To assist me in developing a prospective agenda for Kansas, I asked nearly 100 talented Kansans to serve on the Vision 21st Century Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer. Many of their recommendations are reflected in my budget and proposals, and their excellent work will guide me in future public policy initiatives. Several of the task force members are with us tonight, and I ask you to join me in thanking them for a job well done.

    Let me now highlight some of my budget and policy recommendations for fiscal year 2002. I would first like to discuss the importance of renewing the Kansas Lottery. Since its creation, the lottery has generated more than $510 million for economic development and education-related activities. In fact, the Legislative Research Department recently reported that 47 percent of lottery proceeds are spent for programs that support education.

    In the 1986 election, nearly two out of three Kansas voters supported amending the Kansas constitution to have a state lottery. This session, you will discuss whether to honor their decision. Failure to renew the lottery will cause it to automatically expire and will require budget adjustments that anticipate the loss of $60 million -- an amount the lottery is expected to generate for various state programs in fiscal year 2002. Reauthorizing the lottery is not a decision that can or should wait until late in the session. I am not asking for a rush to judgment. Be deliberative, but make it a priority to address it early in the session. I support the lottery's reauthorization.

    While state government has a wide range of responsibilities, I believe its primary focus should be in the areas of citizens with special needs, transportation infrastructure, environment, public safety and education. Contained within this year's budget are a number of significant enhancements and policy recommendations to continue the progress we have made during the past several years.

    For Kansans with special needs, additional funding in fiscal year 2002 will increase access to programs for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. We have added funding for nutrition services and for senior income eligible programs. Also, there will be new funding so that more low-income families can access dental services for their children.

    For the third year, HealthWave -- our health care program for children -- is fully funded. As recommended by my Early Childhood Task Force, we have started the process of eliminating the six-month waiting period for families enrolling their children in HealthWave by adding more state general fund dollars. Eliminating the waiting period will allow us to serve more children.

    We will match federal Medicaid dollars so that low-income women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer can better access treatment for these all-too-common, yet curable, diseases. Until now, Medicaid dollars could only be used to screen for these diseases; now they can provide treatment. Also underway is a pharmaceutical buy-back program to allow long-term care facilities to return to pharmacies unused medications for repackaging and reimbursement to the state. We anticipate savings of at least $1.4 million a year.

    The comprehensive transportation program passed two years ago will continue to receive full support of its planned construction projects. This investment in our state's infrastructure is critically important and we must keep our commitment to these planned projects.

    Three million dollars from the educational building fund will support construction of the agriculture value-added center at Kansas State University. The value-added center -- strongly supported by my Task Force on Agriculture -- will serve as a place where producers and industry partner with university researchers to create new uses and greater demand for Kansas agricultural products.

    For the second year, regents universities, community colleges and Washburn University will benefit from substantial increases in funding as a result of the Higher Education Coordination Act. Last year we added $21 million. For fiscal year 2002, I recommend an additional $21 million. In addition, we have increased student financial aid and enhanced vocational education funding. Also, I endorse the key components of the new budgeting plan put forth by the Board of Regents, commonly referred to as block grants. The plan allows for increased management flexibility, but demands increased accountability.

    To achieve long-term viability of Kansas' communities, industries and agricultural producers, I support the recommendation made by my Task Force on Water: by 2020 we stop depletion of our state's precious aquifers. I am including money for the Kansas Geological Survey to analyze and recommend strategies for preserving our aquifers. The Governor's Water Quality Initiative will be expanded into three additional river basins through increased funding for buffer strip projects.

    The talent of our state employees has allowed us to achieve excellent results with a work force that is nearly nine percent smaller than it was in 1995. To better recruit, retain and reward our state employees, I recommend eliminating the first three steps from the pay matrix, which will increase starting pay for state employees by 7.5 percent; and I recommend a 3 percent COLA and unclassified merit increase -- half applied in July 2001 and half in January 2002.

    Recruitment and retention of corrections officers demands our attention. Therefore, I am recommending their salaries be enhanced an additional 2.5 percent for a total of 5.5 percent, and that signing bonuses be offered to new recruits. To attract talented individuals to the Highway Patrol, I recommend a salary enhancement of 5 percent above the recommendation for state employees, for a total salary enhancement of 8 percent.

    During the next 90 days of the legislative session, we should consider several timely and critical public policy issues.

    Given public awareness of the vote recount problems in Florida, now is an appropriate time for a thorough legislative review of Kansas laws relative to closely contested elections. At a minimum, I believe the Legislature should adopt a law requiring an automatic recount in the event an election margin is less than one-half of one percent. Kansas has a good election system run by capable people. I believe this review and proposal can make it even better.

    Safety on our roads and highways must be a priority. My legislative proposals will make it more difficult for a person convicted of multiple moving violations, including driving under the influence, to retain driving privileges. I support continuing efforts to keep drunk drivers off our roads, including passage of effective ignition interlock laws.

    As I requested last year, allow law enforcement officers to make stops for seat belt violations. Kansas law requires the driver and passengers to wear seat belts; but we do not allow an officer to enforce this law by stopping a vehicle in violation. Several high profile accidents emphasize the tragedy that can occur when a seat belt is not worn -- that of Derrick Thomas last year; a recent death of a promising Wyandotte High School student-athlete; the death last month of a prominent Wichita union leader whose family stated his death may have been prevented had he been wearing his seat belt. Statistics show that wearing seat belts saves lives. The law requires wearing a seat belt. It is time to enforce the law.

    Last year we created a trust fund from which earnings would go to pay for prescription drugs for low-income seniors. Federal legislation currently being considered and likely to be adopted requires a state maintenance of effort that could put our trust fund in jeopardy. We should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the direction we have taken and determine if the money we set aside in trust would better address senior health care in other ways.

    Last year I encouraged you to look carefully at dramatically rising costs of services for Kansans with special needs. We must review all state and federal policies to ensure each dollar is spent effectively.

    I asked for and am pleased by the Kansas Corporation Commission's response to my request of assisting Kansans in a time of soaring natural gas prices. I wish to commend the private and not-for-profit partnership with the KCC for implementing two new programs last week.

    Let me now devote the balance of my time to K-12 education -- the most important issue that will challenge us this session. Governors and legislators before us have regularly debated the appropriate and adequate means to fund K-12 education. There is no question K-12 education was, is and will be our state's number one public policy issue. A review of past State of the State messages clearly illustrates that fact.

    In 1941, Governor Payne Ratner noted, "An educated citizenry is a vital factor in strengthening the safeguards of democracy and advancing the welfare of our state and nation. The citizens of Kansas have always believed in education and have provided liberally for schools." Ten years later in 1951, Governor Ed Arn stated, "Nothing is more important to the future of our state and of our democracy than the excellence of our educational system. ..." In 1985, Governor John Carlin declared, "Our educational system is the single most important building block. ... It deserves constant attention to its needs so that quality can continue to increase and our young people will be adequately prepared for the jobs of the future."

    Each of us who has the opportunity to represent our special constituencies has, with that opportunity, the obligation of vision and leadership. All of us have been named stewards in guiding the future of our state and its people. Your capacity to shape and guide the educational future of our children is the single most important role you will perform as a legislator.

    I am pleased to report, that within existing resources, I am able to offer substantial support for education. I recommend an increase of $50 in base state aid per pupil be added to match the increase of each of the last two years. Special education will have a $19 million increase to provide financing at 85.3 percent of excess cost. As recommended by the Task Force on K-12 Education, the Legislature should adopt a new reimbursement formula for special education that targets money according to the number of students, rather than the number of teachers. By adding $4 million, my budget raises the at-risk formula to 10 percent, which doubles since 1997 the amount we make available for at-risk students. The parents education program will be increased by $2 million; and we're adding $1 million to serve more 4-year-old at-risk students.

    I propose $500,000 to assist schools in technology infrastructure planning so we can meet the goal of statewide interconnectivity by 2002. In addition I propose $450,000 for an independent assessment of our school finance formula so that we can be better prepared to address any serious inequities and opportunities for improvement.

    Combined with other education spending, my recommendations will provide $68.4 million of new funding for elementary and secondary education. But I don't believe that's good enough, and many Kansans agree with me.

    Most recently my Task Force on K-12 Education clearly identified a higher goal, the essence of which we must strive to meet. All-day kindergarten is not a question of if; it's a question of how and when we get there. Special education, fully funded, is not a question of if; it's a question of how and when we get there. Achieving competitive teachers' salaries is not a question of if; it's a question of how and when we get there. We have to attract and retain the finest teachers available. Anything short of that will leave our state unprepared for educating our children with excellence. Other areas of the Task Force report that I believe are vital are the issues of providing incentives for schools to achieve even better results and to be innovative in addressing performance pay issues.

    I believe it is time for us to set the bar higher and raise expectations of what K-12 education should be in Kansas. To achieve a higher standard, we will need to view education as a multi-year process, recognizing as we have in the past with such programs as transportation, higher education governance and higher education infrastructure, that significant undertakings do take time and often cannot be accomplished in the short span of one legislative session.

    This legislature needs to spend a significant portion of the 90-day session reviewing and understanding where we are and where existing resources will take us. I believe your review will demonstrate that available resources leave us short of acceptably financing K-12 education. Our great and collective challenge will be to demonstrate the leadership our constituencies expect of us by agreeing on a program that raises educational opportunities for our children and being willing to consider all options to financially implement that program. There is no higher priority for me this session.

    It is a priority because I have been in classrooms throughout the state and I have seen firsthand how well-placed resources can produce dramatic results. It is a priority because I understand the financial demands technology and innovation place on our schools. It is a priority because I know firsthand that a great teacher can touch and change a child's life forever. Finally, as a parent I am experiencing every day through my daughter how education is the key to the future. Whatever it takes to find the resources to effectively and fairly fund K-12 education is my priority, and I urge you to consider making it yours.

    Tonight I have shared with you our past achievements and current challenges. With a sense of pride in what we have achieved and a sense of purpose in what we must achieve, we now begin the work of the 2001 session. May we be guided not by politics or personal agendas but by a vision of a better Kansas. Our vision must continue the 140 years of commitment to building a Kansas in which our citizens have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. It is not our responsibility to merely protect or repeat the past, it is our obligation to build the future. It will demand our best efforts and justly so -- for the people of Kansas deserve no less.

    Thank you and good night.
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