By: Kyle Palmer and Matt Hodapp
In December, The New York Times described Brett Parker as “an elementary school teacher and rookie politician...a Democrat running against a Republican incumbent in a Republican state that the Republican presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump, clinched by 20 percentage points. In spite of all that, Mr. Parker will be sworn into the Kansas House of Representatives next month.”
Parker was part of a wave of Democrats and moderate Republicans who drastically changed the makeup and political temperament of the Kansas statehouse in Topeka, which is about a 90-minute drive from where No Wrong Answers tapes in Kansas City, Missouri. As many other states and the country in general went more red in November, Kansas got a bit bluer. Parker had been an elementary school ELL specialist for years and says he never had an inclination to run for public office until recently.
For our listeners not from Kansas, a bit of context: the state is currently in dire fiscal straits. Projected budget deficits for this year and next approach $1 billion. Many Democrats and Republicans say the state’s drastic 2012 income tax cuts need to be revised in order to fill that hole. In addition, schools in Kansas have been operating that past two years under a controversial block-grant scheme instituted two years ago after state lawmakers ditched the old school funding formula. Now, there is an intensive push to rewrite that formula after the state Supreme Court this month ruled the state’s funding of public schools is constitutionally inadequate. That made national news because, though the Court didn’t put a dollar figure on its decision, some say the state needs to put up to $800 million more per year into education.
Those are the issues teacher Brett Parker ran on as a candidate in 2016, and the issues he’s now faced with helping solve as a state representative. We wanted to talk with him about why he felt compelled to run...and what it’s like being a teacher in a state legislature, where more typical career paths are lawyer or business owner.
But first, I asked him a question I thought any teacher would want to know first: how could he possibly be a teacher and a lawmaker at the same time?
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