Monday, 2:30 p.m.
Rep. Kenny Bingham is a man of many moods — hence the multiple pictures above.
But in all moods, he has always been an advocate for public education — ever since he was elected, as a member of the Lexington 2 school board, to the House six years ago.
That’s why I was disappointed to hear that he was speaking in favor of the latest incarnation of the effort to give tax breaks to subsidize private schools. When he read about that on my blog, he called to elaborate on his support of the bill. We spoke more about it in his formal endorsement interview on Monday.
Rep. Bingham complains that the Legislature is a hard place to get things done. He misses the school board, where if you "get three people to agree with you," you can move ahead. By contrast, "state government is a slow train." Anybody who walks in thinking he’s going to move the world right away has another think coming: "Every day that I’m there, I find out how stupid I am and how little I know."
I know what he means. The world isn’t as simple as many voters (or editorial boards) would like. The question for voters in his district is, what is the level of compromise that is necessary to get things done? The second question is, if they think Mr. Bingham has compromised too much — or not enough — would they vote instead for someone as young, inexperienced and (relatively) single-issue as his primary opponent? (And sorry — no picture of Artie White. He was the first candidate we interviewed on this cycle, and I didn’t think of taking in the camera until later.)
"Everything is about compromise" in the House, said Mr. Bingham. "Take the school ‘choice’ issue, a perfect example."
"There are a number of us (and too few, in the House) who understand public education," he said. "We support public education." That’s why he refused to support "Put Parents in Charge" when asked to sponsor it last year. But there was a limit to his ability to withhold his support and still be effective, he said.
“When you continue to say ‘no, I’m not going to do it,’” you find
you don’t have a “place at the table.”
Besides, he believes the proposal he recently supported — and which failed — would have had little effect. It was for him a damaging political distraction, and he thought it best to get it out of the way. His attitude was, "That’s not gonna solve all the problems" of public education if it passed. At the same time, he thinks it wouldn’t hurt. Public schools, he said, would easily withstand the competition for funds:
“They got all the dang money in the world, more
than any private school.”
So what does he think should be done about school funding? "The state needs to fund education equally," using weighted pupil units. He would regulate the schools less: Give the districts the money, and let them decide how to spend it. "As long as the schools meet objectives, leave them alone."
The big issue is how you get the money: "What do you tax?"
Mr. Bingham, who was an early supporter of the proposal once known as "Quinn-Sheheen," and now known over in the Senate as "the Grooms plan," thinks it’s something that should be talked about, and that conversation is overdue. "We have not had that discussion on the floor of the House. They have not had that discussion on the floor of the Senate."