Posted Date: 04/07/2022
No one likes to be accused of something they’re not. When the 2022 legislative session started, public schools were depicted by some legislators as places where CRT was being taught and parents weren't welcome.
That’s not what Kansas schools are and I believe most Kansans know that. Parents who attended Kansas public schools and or interact with our schools through their own children or grandchildren know that.
That’s why, it is my sincerest hope that if the 2022 legislative session is remembered for anything, it will be remembered as the year when Kansas parents said enough of this nonsense of bashing public schools. When state and national interest groups pushing private school vouchers demanded Kansas legislators pass a so-called parents’ bill of rights, hundreds if not thousands of Kansas parents contacted their legislators to tell them this was unnecessary and would undermine our teachers who felt like they were being slapped in the face. During a recent KASB statewide tour, school board members and administrators repeatedly noted the increasing difficulty in retaining and recruiting teachers and that the current political climate of perceived antagonism towards teachers was part of the reason.
Later, when those same state and national groups demanded that Kansas public school districts be required to open enrollment to non-resident, out-of-district students, again Kansas parents said this should be a local decision, not something mandated by Topeka.
An extremely pared down parents’ bill of rights was approved in the House and Senate but by small majorities. It remains to be seen if Gov. Laura Kelly will veto the bill. Just for the record, let’s dissect the voting. Parents’ bill of rights passed 23-15 in the Senate and 67-46 in the House. The only “yes” votes were Republicans, while the “no” votes were all the Democrats present, plus a solid group of Republicans who defied their leaders. This was probably one of the most bi-partisan “no” votes during the session on an issue that Republican legislative leaders wanted over the wishes of Democrats.
The fact is, teachers welcome parental involvement and utilize numerous methods to communicate with parents about how their children are doing. During a hearing on parents’ bill of rights, proponents of the bill were asked to provide one example of when a Kansas parent was denied access to something their child was being taught. In other words, why is this bill necessary?” Crickets. Finally, a proponent who was zooming in from his think tank office in Arizona, brought up an incident in Rhode Island. Again, it was pointed out, no Kansas examples.
On the open enrollment proposal, the bill was attached to a school funding measure that hasn’t seen the light of day yet because Republicans heard from their constituents that enrollment should be decided at the local level based on local situations. This shows the power local constituents have but this fight may continue. Proponents of the bill accused opponents of being elitist, but many districts already have open enrollment, and the reasons to have it or not are based on many factors, such as local growth, taxes, and capacity — all factors that are closely monitored by Kansas school boards before making decisions. The elitist tag could certainly be thrown back at the bill’s supporters, since the measure included no transportation funding, meaning only students who could afford to travel to another district would benefit.
Our vigilance during this legislative session must continue. Legislators return to Topeka on April 25 and open enrollment, school funding and many other education issues will be jammed into the omnibus session. Issues such as using tax dollars to send students to private schools could always crop up again. Please keep your legislator’s email and phone number handy because there will be times they will need to hear from their constituents on issues that will affect your public school.
Nearly 500,000 young people in Kansas are taught by teachers, administrators and staff all day, five days a week. That’s millions and millions of interactions every hour. Some of those may not be perfect. But when your child enters a Kansas public school, they are going to be kept safe, treated as individuals and fully taught by an educated, motivated and loving staff. My message to the outside interests trying to run public school policy in Kansas is this: You cannot break the spirit of Kansas teachers and staff with cynical criticisms and cherry-picking data. Kansans believe, rightly so, that their schools are their schools. Let’s keep it that way. Follow your legislator on what they are saying and doing about public schools and help them stay on the straight and narrow to protect our investment in the future.
Members can find their legislators at www.kasb.org/findlegislator and find continued information in our newsroom. Contact the KASB Advocacy staff with any additional questions or information.