March, South Park Rally advocate for public education

Participants+in+Lawrence%27s+Rally+for+Kansas+Schools+hold+signs+in+protest+of+recent+legislation%2C+such+as+the+block-funding+grant%2C+which+will+cut+an+estimated+%241.98+million+from+the+Lawrence+school+district.+%22I+think+this+has+been+really+great+to+spread+awareness%2C%22+Johnson+County+resident+Erin+Heger+said.

Joseph Anderson of the LHS Budget

Participants in Lawrence’s Rally for Kansas Schools hold signs in protest of recent legislation, such as the block-funding grant, which will cut an estimated $1.98 million from the Lawrence school district. “I think this has been really great to spread awareness,” Johnson County resident Erin Heger said.

Two years ago, on her first march from Kansas City to Topeka, Heather Ousley, member of Game On for Kansas Schools, spent much of the 60-mile journey alone, aside from friends bringing her food. One major exception was her trek through Lawrence, which happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I was walking down Mass, and they had me come and be in the parade, and the parade announcer announced me, and everyone in Lawrence was like, ‘Yay! Public schools!’” Ousley said.

Ousley and Game On for Kansas Schools have since made the march an annual event, aimed at raising awareness for funding and issues related to Kansas public schools. What started as a Game On for Kansas Schools-supported one-man mission has expanded to a group of about 30 at any given time during the march, with 15 walking all three days, and the rest joining for portions of the journey.

“Game On was an organization, but we were much smaller and we were just trying to raise awareness and get people involved,” Ousley said. “We thought we could walk and do that. And it turned out that, yeah, we could.”

This year, Ousley and her group were greeted by about 200 Kansans in South Park in downtown Lawrence on Saturday, March 28, on day two of their three-day walk. Lawrence’s Rally for Kansas Schools—organized by local legislative advocacy group, Educate Lawrence—coincided with the march as both groups looked to garner support in opposition of recent legislation.

Local teachers, students and parents attended the event, many clad in red “I support public education” shirts, some carrying signs that sported slogans like “Brownbackwards” and “Brown(Back) vs Board of Education.”

For Lawrence High junior Miranda Doores, attending the rally as a student was her opportunity to advocate for her education and that of her peers.

“We are the people who are going to be going up in the world and controlling things and being a part of the society, so we should get education like everyone else,” Doores said.

Candidates for the recent school board election, as well as current members, were in attendance, and Lawrence state representatives Tom Sloan and John Wilson spoke to the crowd.

In his brief remarks, Wilson lauded current efforts of teachers and concerned citizens, but wished such action wasn’t necessary.

I’ve got to say, that I’m kind of sad that, in the 21st century, in Kansas, we have to spend our Saturdays rallying for public education.”

— Lawrence state representative John Wilson

“I’ve got to say, that I’m kind of sad that, in the 21st century, in Kansas, we have to spend our Saturdays rallying for public education,” Wilson said.

Sloan also voiced his concern about the situation in Topeka, with the recent passage of a block-funding grant that will significantly cut school funding across the state.

“I don’t know any employer who wants a dumb workforce,” Sloan said. “And if there are, they need to make themselves available because they’re going to get it.”

Compared to the expected funds from the previous formula, Lawrence will lose around $1.98 million under the block grant bill, according to estimates from the Kansas State Department of Education.

“Never before have I seen so much disrespect and outright contempt from our state leaders for the excellent work our teachers and our public schools do every day for our children,” said Shannon Kimball, school board president.

Johnson County resident Erin Heger, who walked the second leg of the march, found herself upset with the funding situation in Topeka and wanted to help do something about it. She heard about the march via social media and decided to participate.

“I just wish more people would get involved,” Heger said. “I think this has been really great to spread awareness.”

Several teachers from Lawrence High, Free State and local middle schools set up tables around the park, demonstrating how current funding was used for science projects, clubs and the arts.

Free State teacher Danielle Geronymo and her Lawrence High counterpart Ashley Ferguson used the rally to spread awareness about their class, Jobs for America’s Graduates.

While JAG is grant-funded, Geronymo and Ferguson wanted to support teachers who faced potential cuts due to the new funding.

“We just want to support our colleagues and we just want a better results for kids,” Geronymo said.

I was kind of shocked … I expected a lot more people to show, really.”

— LHS junior Miranda Doores

While attendance was more than Ousley expected, Doores noticed an absence of local high school students.

“I was kind of shocked,” Doores said. “ … I expected a lot more people to show, really.”

While commending those present, Sloan commented on the disinterest of the general public and its implications for education.

“Too many people are apathetic,” Sloan said. “Too many people may look at a newspaper or listen to the news and think we should do something, and they don’t.”