By Amanda Litvinov / photo: Sen. Anthony Hensley addressed Kansas-NEA members in the state Capitol as he battled against the 2014 legislative proposal that stripped teachers of due process.
This profile is the first in our series on why it’s so important for educators to run for office, and for the rest of us to support them. Read our profile of California teacher and school board member Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez .
Anthony Hensley, U.S. Government teacher and minority leader, Kansas State Senate
Anthony Hensley set out to become a teacher, but always had one foot in politics. In 1972, 18-year-olds gained the right to vote and a teenage Anthony Hensley managed his 18-year-old friend’s campaign for the Kansas House of Representatives. They didn’t win, but Hensley learned from their missteps and won his own race for state representative four years later, just after his first year as a classroom teacher. He was then elected to the state Senate in 1992 and has been Minority Leader since 1996. The 40-year member of the Kansas NEA will enter his 40th legislative session in 2016.
EducationVotes: What made you decide to run for public office at such a young age?
Sen. Anthony Hensley: My parents inspired me, my teachers inspired me, and my students inspired me. I’ve never questioned that this legislative body needs the perspective that can only be brought by someone who’s working in public schools.
EV: What are the parallels between your classroom experience and your time in the statehouse?
AH: By training, I am a special education teacher with a certification in behavior disorders. Given that background, that makes me eminently qualified to serve in our state legislature, because I have to deal with a lot of behavior disorders up here, too.
EV: What has changed the most over your four decades serving in the Kansas legislature?
AH: We used to have a working coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate. But our current governor, Sam Brownback, is the most right-wing ideologue we’ve ever had leading this state. He took about a dozen moderates out of office through the Republican primaries in 2012. Kansas’s politics have changed pretty dramatically— to the point that we have this war on public education and in particular on public school teachers.
EV: Proudest accomplishment?
AH: I was very involved in passing the school finance formula in 1992 when I was in the House. That was landmark legislation that aimed to address the adequacy and equity of our education funding system.
EV: Greatest disappointment?
AH: Gov. Brownback and his allies have repealed the school finance formula we adopted back in 1992 that made our finance system more equitable and more adequate.
We set out to create that policy because we were under a court order, but it was so underfunded it couldn’t succeed. We’re in the same situation today as we were back then because this formula has been historically underfunded by this legislature.
Case in point: In 1992, the base budget per pupil was $3,600, and today the base budget per pupil is $3,825. If we had kept up with inflation, the base budget per pupil today would be around $6,000. We are far behind where we should be and that’s why once again we’re under the watchful eye of the courts.
EV: If you could give anyone a detention…
AH: That would be Gov. Brownback. Last year, in 2014 alone, our budget shortfall was $700 million. And it’s because of his misguided policy of trying to go to zero income tax. He thinks this is somehow going to create jobs, but In fact, research shows that we’re losing jobs. If we go to zero on income taxes public schools, transportation, social services, everything our general fund is responsible for, they’re all going to suffer.