Posted Date: 04/19/2022
Note to education advocates: When it comes to school funding and policy this session, nothing has been resolved yet.
With vetoes of bills on transgender athletes and parents’ bill of rights, and non-action on K-12 funding and numerous other education measures, Kansas public schools will be front and center when legislators return for the omnibus session that starts Monday, April 25.
When legislators adjourned the regular session on April 2, they had sent to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk two proposals sought by Republican legislative leaders — SB 160, which prohibited transgender athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams, and SB 58, which required districts to adopt policies that ensured parents could be informed and able to inspect any classroom materials.
In addition, Republican members on a House-Senate K-12 conference committee agreed to a school funding package attached to numerous other policies, including a measure that would require school districts to accept enrollment of students from anywhere if the districts had capacity.
Since then, Kelly, a Democrat, vetoed the transgender and so-called parents’ bill of rights bills. And the conference committee report was never brought up for full House and Senate votes, indicating it may not have had enough support to pass.
It will be up to GOP leaders to determine if they will try to override the vetoes or attach those measures to a school funding bill. It would take two-thirds’ majorities in the House and Senate to overturn vetoes, while it would only take a simple majority to pass those measures if they were added to school funding.
The transgender bill was approved in the House 74-39 and 25-13 in the Senate. The “parents’ bill of rights” legislation was approved 67-46 in the House and 23-15 in the Senate. A two-thirds majority in the House is 84 votes and 27 votes in the Senate. Because of absences at the end of the regular session, and possible vote switches, it is difficult to determine if the vetoes could be overturned or sustained.
KASB opposed SB 160, saying that the Kansas State High School Activities Association was the appropriate agency to deal with the participation of transgendered students at the high school level. KASB was neutral on SB 58 because the legislation highlighted many rights already established and was less restrictive than an earlier version by not including the posting of learning materials and a parental portal.
On the public school budget, after a week of negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee, the bill (HB 2567) provided school funding outlined by the Gannon legal settlement but also became a kitchen sink of policy proposals sought by GOP education committee chairs.
One of the more controversial policy proposals in HB 2567 would require school districts to allow non-resident students to enroll and attend any district. KASB opposed the so-called open enrollment provision, saying the decision on whether to accept non-resident students should be made by local boards after consulting with their patrons, as it is done now. Most school districts accept students from other districts, but some don’t because of capacity, tax and facility issues.
Another controversial proposal would have established a virtual math program that would be paid for with federal COVID-19 funds in the first year, but then charge districts fees in the second year of the program. The proposal initially required that districts use a Florida-based company called Math Nation. But after complaints that it was inappropriate to fund such a program without considering other companies, that was amended to remove specific mention of Math Nation, although critics of the bill say it is still written in a way that favors the selection of Math Nation.
A conflict also arose during last-minute negotiations between House and Senate conferees on the education budget when House K-12 Education Budget Chairwoman Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, insisted the Kansas Promise Scholarship program be expanded to give Kansas taxpayer-paid scholarships to students from bordering states of Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado. Senate Education Chairwoman Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said that proposal needed more public vetting.
The measure also included a $7.5 million increase in special education state aid, but many officials — Democrats and Republicans — say that is too little. The State Board of Education recently agreed to increase its special education request from $68 million to $155 million, saying that the increasing special education costs were eating into non-special education funding and causing districts to fall further behind and that the state, with a record budget surplus, could afford to up its commitment.
In addition, the conference committee bill included changes to virtual school funding, increased reporting by local school boards on school needs to increase test scores, an early literacy push and other measures.
Another bill that may be worked on further during the omnibus session is HB 2466, which is aimed at increasing the availability of computer courses.
Debate on these education issues and more will resume when legislators reconvene in Topeka.
Several education issues were signed into law by Kelly. They include:
-- SB 62, which updates vision screening tests and deaf/hard of hearing services;
-- SB 91, which provides liability protection for businesses, municipalities and educational institutions that participate in high school work-based learning programs and providing that schools are responsible for injuries to students participating in such programs;
— SB 563, which redraws state House, Senate and State Board of Education boundaries for redistricting.
Still awaiting action by the governor is:
— SB 215, which authorizes school boards to contract with transportation network companies for the purpose of transporting eight or fewer people to and from school or school-related activities and transfers authority for postsecondary driver’s education and driver training schools to the Kansas Department of Revenue.