The Kansas Constitution requires the state to provide a “suitable” education. The public, educators, legislators, and Governors have not developed consensus definition of that term. For me, a suitable education maximizes the student’s ability to learn and utilize the information acquired. This means that a suitable education for a person with developmental or physical disabilities will be different than for a student in the “gifted” program. The objective will be the same – to maximize the individual student’s ability to learn and apply knowledge and skills – but, the specifics of that education will be different.
I also believe that while the Constitution addresses primary (K-12) education, the state has a responsibility to provide affordable educational opportunities for pre-kindergarten students and college/vocational students – including adults who return to school at any level to learn new skills. An educated population makes “better” citizens, contributes more to society, and has greater earning potential.
In addition to the traditional classroom approach to providing educational opportunities, I am a strong believer in the use of technology to increase student access to information. Distance education permits a teacher in one school building to reach students in many other buildings. I have witnessed a teacher of Latin based in Dodge City teach students in six other school districts, including DeSoto, using interactive Internet. Not only is this an effective means for students to take courses for which there is no local teacher, but our best teachers have the opportunity to reach students far beyond their own classroom.
As a primary sponsor of the legislation that created KAN-ED high-speed Internet system that links school districts, public libraries, universities, and hospitals, I work to ensure that every student can access the resources he/she needs to learn effectively. University students are taking more courses on-line, and it is part of my vision that students of all ages will have equal opportunities to access the U.S. Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Museum, and other educational information sources from their homes.
Even more than educational opportunities, two factors will determine the future of our state – clean, abundant water supplies and affordable, reliable, responsible energy supplies. Without both water and energy, our businesses and homes will be less hospitable, economic development opportunities will evaporate, and our children and grandchildren will not enjoy the recreational opportunities that we do today.
Clinton, Perry, Milford, Tuttle, and the other Corps of Engineers constructed reservoirs were designed and constructed to provide flood protection and water supplies for 100 years. Most of these reservoirs are 50-60 years and filling with sediment. Sediment makes the lakes shallow and that affects water quality, flood control storage capacity, recreational opportunities, and drinking water supply capacity. While we do not have a crisis yet, Kansans will without appropriate actions.
Twice I hosted the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) in the Bush Administration for meetings with Kansas water policy-makers and stakeholders. The Assistant Secretary oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who manage Clinton Lake and the other large reservoirs in Kansas. I have led a delegation of Kansas water agency heads to Washington, D.C. for a meeting with the Assistant Secretary in the Obama Administration. Each of these meetings increased the confidence of the Corps of Engineers and their civilian leaders that Kansans want to partner more effectively. As I told the current Assistant Secretary and her Deputy, Kansans are not looking for the Corps of Engineers to do and pay for everything related to extending the productive lives of our reservoirs. Kansans believe in partnerships, innovative thinking, and addressing issues before they become a crisis.
Several years ago, I successfully sponsored legislation creating the Clean Drinking Water Fee Fund and a program through which the state and local governments can address municipal drinking water lake sedimentation. The City of Horton’s Mission Lake is currently being dredged to restore it as a water supply source. After the water depth became too shallow to supply water to the City’s water treatment plant, several water wells were drilled. Restoring the lake’s water storage capacity will allow Horton residents to have adequate water supplies, and recreational opportunities, for generations.
Approximately two-thirds of Kansans rely directly or indirectly on the Corps reservoirs or municipal drinking water supply lakes. Without protecting and restoring those water supplies, Kansans will face a truly horrendous water crisis in the future. (You may recall that Atlanta’s primary water source, Lake Lanier, almost dried up several summers ago. It is my goal to make sure that such a situation does not ever occur in Kansas.)
So, what have we accomplished thus far? First, as indicated above, the Clean Drinking Water Fee Fund is addressing municipal drinking water lakes sustainability. Second, under the encouragement of the Vision 2020 Committee which I Chair, Kansas’ water agencies have developed a “Reservoir Road Map” to address the long-term viability of our larger drinking water supply sources. Third, the Corps of Engineers is negotiating with the Kansas Water Office to permanently assign a Corps employee to the Water Office as a liaison to expedite joint planning and project coordination. Fourth, the Legislature approved creation of a “Water Data Library” at the Kansas Biological Survey on KU’s west campus into which all water quality and quantity data collected by state (and hopefully federal) water agencies will be placed on a “common” platform. This will facilitate water policy planning because all data will be in one place and in one format. I have been in contact with the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about their agencies participating in the water data library project so that we can better coordinate our efforts to safeguard Kansas’ water supplies.
Energy for our homes, businesses, and lifestyles comes in several forms – electricity, natural gas, gasoline. Electricity can be generated from fossil fuels, uranium, wind, solar, bio-mass, landfill gas, and more. The tragic oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, political turmoil in Nigeria and parts of the Middle East, and increasing demands from China and India are clear indicators that our energy choices will become more expensive.
As a legislator and citizen, I have worked to promote energy policies that balance reliability, affordability, and responsibility. Electric generation is comprised of two components – energy and capacity. Energy is the electrons produced, capacity is the amount of time that one can count on those electrons being produced. All electrons are the same, regardless of the fuel source used to generate them. The key to a responsible energy policy is to address the capacity factor.
Most renewable energy generation systems (e.g., wind, solar) produce electricity 40% of the time or less. These low capacity factors are due to the wind not blowing hard enough to turn the turbine blades or the sun not shining during rain storms or at night. There are several ways to address these shortcomings: build more renewable generators across the country and link them together through high voltage transmission lines or use other generation fuels to provide energy when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. This is a simplistic background for my work as a legislator. I have supported legislatively and in Washington, D.C. the construction of high voltage transmission lines to permit more of western Kansas’ wind energy production to be “harvested” and “moved” to energy load centers in St. Louis, Chicago, California, etc. Six times I have brought U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) leaders to Kansas to meet with our stakeholders. Some of the progress we are making in securing cost recovery for the proposed transmission lines between Wichita-Commanche County-Spearville, KS-Axtell, NE is the result of those Transmission Summits and the follow-up discussions.
Energy conservation and efficiency are two terms that capture public attention. Energy conservation implies that we will use less energy by reducing our life style; energy efficiency implies that we can maintain our life styles by using technology to utilize energy more effectively. The federal Energy Star Ratings System and programmable thermostats are examples of using energy more efficiently.
You may have heard of Smart Grid – the “marriage” of telecommunications and electric systems to deliver energy to our homes and businesses more effectively and the prospect that we will have “smart” appliances that will recognize and not operate/operate when electric demand/costs are high and when electric demand is low/less expensive. Lawrence will receive Smart Meters in a DOE-funded pilot project by Westar Energy to test how well such meters can be integrated into the electric generation-transmission-distribution-home use system.
I have introduced legislation in Kansas to establish a 10-year energy plan that addresses increasing production of oil and natural gas from existing fields, increasing electric generation from renewable resources, establishing targets for energy efficiency, and more. All of our policies must continue to assure Kansans that sufficient, reliable, and affordable energy will be available for our homes, businesses, vehicles, and life styles. That does not mean that energy costs will not rise, they will, but it does mean that even if the federal government does not develop a comprehensive energy plan, Kansans can prevent/minimize rolling blackouts, unheated homes, businesses shut down for lack of energy, and lines at the gasoline pump with proper planning and public commitment.
High speed Internet or Broadband services are what makes I-phones, Blackberries, E-911 systems, e-government, home businesses, global businesses, and student success possible. There is a woman in SW Kansas who sells tumbleweeds to New York City interior decorators – I know, very strange. The woman developed her business because she has Broadband at her city home, if she lived on the ranch with dial-up services, she would not be able to offer 3-dimensional pictures of her tumbleweeds and aggressively market them.
Elsewhere in this discussion of policies and my legislative work, I addressed telemedicine and educational opportunities. To encourage deployment of Broadband technologies to all Kansans, I hosted two Rural Broadband Summits involving Federal Communications Commission leaders and Kansas stakeholders. We focused on how wireless technologies can reach remote Kansans and provide them essentially the same education, health care, business, and recreational opportunities of our urban residents. We do not have Broadband available to every Kansan – but I am working to promote the technologies, cost recovery mechanisms, and support to accomplish that objective. Included in those efforts are steps to enable E-911 centers to receive text messages, in addition to voice.
I hosted leaders from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes for Health (NIH), and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in Kansas for meetings with KU and other researchers about how we more quickly (yet safely) move pharmaceutical products from the laboratory to the bedside.
In addition, I engaged the Secretary of the U.S. Veterans Administration in a dialogue about connecting the VA’s telemedicine system linking their hospitals with hospitals in Kansas. Technical discussions between the VA’s Kansas City staff and KU Medical Center’s telemedicine staff are occurring as I write this. My vision is that a veteran in Goodland, KS, will go to his/her local hospital and be “seen” over the Internet by VA health care providers in Wichita, Topeka, or some place else. The veteran will not have to travel hours for that appointment, thereby reducing costs for everyone.
KU already has telemedicine programs for oncology follow-up, mental health counseling, and other programs. Linking the VA-and Kansas hospital systems will mean that all Kansans, not just veterans, will be able to be seen by specialists from across the state and country – without leaving their home communities. This may not be as glamorous as finding a cure for the common cold, but if we can keep people in their home communities and support local hospitals, health care in Kansas will cost-effectively improve. If Lawrence Memorial Hospital and its staff elect to become part of a statewide telemedicine system (which is not fully developed yet), our quality health care providers can “see” referred patients from across the state. Just as I mentioned above about Lawrence school teachers offering distance education classes over the interactive Internet, so too can our health care providers serve patients from every corner of our state.