BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
With her win in the August primary, Hays resident Cathy Hopkins faces no opposition in the November general election and will represent 81 school districts on the state Board of Education starting in January.
Her victory marked a stark turnaround after what happened locally in November. Hopkins previously ran for a seat on the Hays USD 489 school board in November but lost by five votes. In a turn, she then ran in the District 5 state BOE Republican primary election and defeated incumbent Jean Clifford by a margin of 9.2 percent.
Hopkins said the concern she perceived from parents and teachers about the direction of education in Kansas is what propelled her to victory in the state board of education race in the primary.
“They are hopeful a stronger conservative approach can make a difference,” she said.
As seen on her website, one of the key issues for Hopkins is local control, which she discussed in a statement to Tiger Media Network.
“Everything occurring in Topeka for all Kansans does not work for all Kansas families,” she said. “We need stronger local governments with engaged citizens to achieve what is best for local communities. This top-down approach has been ongoing for a long time, and many believe a shift must occur to see real change. It is my hope to help bring a different perspective to the BOE and see what can be accomplished to achieve this shift from Topeka-Washington, D.C., directives to more involvement on a local level in decision making for the children of District 5 and all of Kansas.”
In the local school district, the BOE consists of seven publicly elected members who set district policies. However, each BOE must follow policies set by the 10-member state board.
“They make decisions in collaboration with the commissioner and the Kansas State Department of Education to set policies like (teacher and substitute) licensure,” USD 489 Board President Craig Pallister said. “Each local board sets the curriculum for their district, but the state board and the KSDE with the commissioner set up the testing programs to show how well the curriculums are working.”
According to Pallister, the state board also controls each school district’s budget in terms of state funding, but most of their effect on local boards comes through policy and requirements.
In addition to local control, Hopkins also discussed her desire for parents to have a “real say” in the day-to-day information given to their children, as well as her feelings about the data collection of children’s “emotions, values and beliefs and that of their families.”
“I have seen many of these questions and the long list of the entities that are allowed access to the children’s responses,” she said. “It is concerning to many of us and should be carefully regarded.”
To end her statement to TMN, Hopkins spoke about another one of her key beliefs.
“I believe it is important to teach our children the history of the United States of America and Kansas, our founding and the beliefs that have made us a great nation and state in terms of our freedoms and free enterprise,” she said. “Educating our children from an early age is important to maintaining our freedoms.”
Larry Gould, the department chair of political science at Fort Hays, spoke about Hopkins’ situation of losing a local election, then winning a primary and running unopposed in the state election from a political perspective.
“Apparently, she wasn’t as attractive of a candidate to voters in Ellis County, but you put her out among 50,000 Kansans who voted in (District 5), she was attractive enough to win by 10 points,” Gould said.
It was a matter of timing and lack of attention that aided Hopkins’ win, according to Gould.
“Not that many people voted,” he said. “If people don’t pay attention and people don’t vote, that gives the underdog a real chance.”
Furthermore, with no opposition candidate in the running for the general election, the Democratic party “lost a voice,” according to Gould.
As for the timing, Gould said issues from the COVID-19 pandemic could have played a part in the election thus far.
“The pandemic unleashed issues that were not unleashed before, such as masking and vaccinations,” he said. “The way the school boards are voting now and the way they’re getting direction from the state school board is against (the conservative) way of life. That’s another side of this, in terms of bringing out the vote on the Republican side, and those who voted for Cathy Hopkins.”
The general election is set for Nov. 8. For Hopkins, District 7 candidate Dennis Hershberger and District 9 incumbent Jim Porter, the race is already won. District 3 and District 5 are the only state BOE elections with two candidates in the running.