Legislative Advocates represent K-State students’ interests in Topeka

The House Of Representatives room in the Kansas State Capitol. (File photo by Evert Nelson | Collegian Media Group)

In mid-March, Kansas State’s Legislative Advocates will travel to the Statehouse in Topeka to speak on behalf of the university and students in higher education. The group consists of ten members who meet once a week to discuss their issues of choice. This year, they’ll be focusing on higher education funding and mental health.

Madison Brown, junior in finance, is the legislative director, a cabinet-level position in the Student Governing Association.

“Legislative advocates is a non-partisan task force, essentially,” Brown said, “What we work on is advocating for higher education issues in the Legislature. So, what our group is working on right now is preparing for Higher Education Day in Topeka. It’s where all the Kansas Board of Regents schools get together and go to Topeka to advocate for a chosen set of issues that we’ve all decided on. … It’s a group where students are able to learn a little bit about advocating, learn how to stay up to date with what’s happening in the Kansas Legislature, and become civically engaged all around.”

Right now, Brown said, their focus is on being prepared for Higher Education Day.

“What our members are working on right now is doing some research on platforms, making sure we understand these issues, so that we’re able to best represent and support whenever we go to Topeka,” Brown said. “Our issues this year are going to be funding, affirmative consent and mental health. The funding is a really big thing that we’re working on this year because it is really important that higher education gets funded more than it does now.”

Because the group just started meeting for the year, Brown said they haven’t had the opportunity to make a lot of progress yet, but that the group is eager to get started.

“One of our members, Katie from Fort Hays University, is working with an alumni who is a representative on getting an affirmative action consent bill introduced, which is basically changing the rule to say that yes means yes, something that not every Kansas institution has instituted,” Brown said. “That bill has not been introduced yet, but there’s a sponsor on it, so I would say that’s progress. … Looking specifically at progress K-State has made has been getting ourselves up to date on these issues and starting to discuss things like, ‘Well, what is our funding from the state right now?’ and ‘What is the background and context of this?'”

The group doesn’t always get what they ask for. This year, they’re returning with some of the same asks from last year, specifically related to higher education funding.

“With funding, we asked for $90 million, we received $12 [million],” Brown said. “So now, we’re going back and asking for $50 [million.] … we’re making sure we understand what we’re advocating for and understanding the climate and context for all of this.”

Sue Peterson, chief government relations officer, said she is proud of this group, and believes they’ve made good progress on its goals.

“Students advocating on behalf of the university is very important, and I think they have a great voice for us.” Peterson said. “The fact that they want to be involved and will take the time out of class to go and speak with the Capitol about higher education, I think that’s terrific. I know the man who started the program and what his intention was, and I think they’ve kind of kept the program going with the same ideas.”

Peterson said she functions as a resource for the group.

“I’m at the Capitol frequently, and they’re not,” Peterson said. “They’re doing their first job and going to school. I think that I can help them with knowing what’s going on and what our messages are, and then they can plan to be more effective when they go.”

Every spring, Peterson meets with the students to talk about what’s happening in the Statehouse and the university’s and Board of Regent’s priorities.

“I try to help them frame messaging so they collaborate with the university’s message,” she said. “They know what we’re advocating for and they usually advocate for the same thing. When I meet with them this week, it will be an update — here’s where we are, here’s what’s happening in the Kansas Legislature.”

Peterson said that she’d encourage students from every major to consider getting involved in the project.

Students interested in looking at legislative issues and advocacy can attend a legislative review session, which occur every Friday at noon.