TOPEKA — Republican lawmakers pushed through a mega education bill on Thursday to fully fund schools and enact more than a dozen policy provisions, including one that would allow students to transfer to any district. public school, no matter where they live.
The ‘school choice’ measure allowing open enrollment, which comes into effect in the 2024-25 school year, is one of a series of similar bills giving students easier access to schools public and the most successful private establishments. Last year, the legislature approved legislation establishing college savings accounts that can be spent on private school supplies.
The supporters of House Bill 2567 argued that students and families need flexibility when current needs are not being met. But opponents of the bill have noted that student funding argues the measure will simply create a bigger divide between haves and have-nots, and could lead to problems with schools unprepared for more students.
“The provisions of this bill turn the game against our public schools and help pave the way for showcasing failure and privatization,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, a Democrat from Overland Park, adding that the State should work “to fund schools toward adequacy and equity.
The bill also provides for full funding under the Gannon School Financial Settlement. However, the conference committee on K-12 education chose to ignore a proposed $30 million allocation for special education requested by Governor Laura Kelly.
Special education advocates say the state needs to increase special education funding by $155 million to bring the state to the mandated 92% “excess cost.” But GOP lawmakers on the committee argued the state was on track to meet the requirement and shouldn’t allocate more money without knowing in detail what the funds would do to help Kansas students.
Rep. Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta, again referenced raw numbers to say the state is meeting the requirements of state law.
“The bill is intended to meet our constitutional obligation, including maintaining funding focused on student success,” she said.
Senator John Doll, a Republican from Garden City, lamented that the Legislative Assembly will strive to protect certain lives but seems less interested in the lives of people with special needs.
“Sometimes I wonder how much we care that Kansans are born with special needs,” Doll said. “It saddens me greatly that we cannot care for children with special needs in the great state of Kansas.
Kelly initially offered a $7.5 million increase for special education, but later increased her request.
The House and Senate reached agreement on the bill on Wednesday. Molly Baumgardner, Republican from Louisbourg and chair of the Senate Education Committee, praised the efforts of both chambers to find a compromise in the bill..
Baumgardner criticized the school districts, Kelly, and the plaintiff school districts in the Gannon lawsuit for trying to fix the issues by throwing money at the problem.
“We’re going to target that money because we expect to get results,” Baumgardner said. “We know there will be data, and I look forward to hearing the results of these new and innovative changes for our children in Kansas.”
Representative Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat, disputed accusations that complaining school districts were more concerned with money than student performance.
“I found it disturbing unless you had proof that the school districts that sued did not have these students in mind,” Winn said. “It’s one thing, but making a statement like you did is a bit drastic, and at the end of the day, we all care about student success.”
Additionally, the delegations agreed to include an option for school districts to use an online program funded by federal and state funds. Previously, the program would have been a requirement and districts would have had to pay out of pocket.
The legislation allocates an additional $43 million in state dollars for the school mill tax statewide to offset an expanded property tax exemption recently approved by the Legislative Assembly.
Earlier Wednesday, the legislature gave final approval to Bill 2466, which aims to provide computer classes in all high schools. The committee has allocated grants for the program.
Senator Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican and former school principal, said she was taking a leap of faith by even agreeing to allocate the funds prescribed in the bill.
“I have a big problem giving more money to school districts,” Erickson said. “I hope I don’t regret it, and rest assured that I will walk through this with a fine-toothed comb every step of the way.”