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Pros, cons debated over proposed multiplier to private school enrollment for competition purposes

Posted Date: 08/10/2022

Pros, cons debated over proposed multiplier to private school enrollment for competition purposes

A proposal that would make some private schools compete against public schools larger than the ones they currently compete against was heard Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

If the proposal by the Kansas State High School Activities Association is approved by the State Board at its September meeting, the measure would then be considered by the Legislature when the 2022 session starts in January.

The proposed Rule 5 change would apply a multiplier formula to Kansas private schools that inflates their enrollment totals for classification purposes for all school KSHSAA activities. Factors in determining the multiplier would include school location, socio-economic status and past championship experience.   

During the 2020-21 school year, private schools — which make up 7.9% of the state's 354 member schools — claimed 29 of the possible 103 state championships (28%) across 23 sports. Throw out the 23 titles claimed in Class 6A, in which there currently are no private schools competing, and the percentage jumps to 36%.

Supporters of the proposal say private schools, especially in urban areas, enjoy recruiting advantages that public schools don’t and therefore have dominated championships in numerous sports. These advantages include the ability to recruit from anywhere and to offer tuition scholarships.  

State Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Basehor, a former coach and teacher, supported the KSHSAA proposal. He said some public schools are losing star athletes to private schools that offer financial incentives and chances to play for championships. Johnson added that some religious private schools are recruiting athletes outside their faith.

McPherson High School Girls Basketball Coach Christopher Strathman said an example of the advantages that private schools have can be seen in the winning margins that Bishop Miege, a Catholic high school in Roeland Park, amassed during the last girls state tournament. They won by a combined total of 105 points over three games, he said.

 Jeff Hines, principal of Paola High School, noted that more than half of the states have implemented some type of enrollment modifier for private schools.  

In written testimony, Gregory Crow, of Louisburg, noted that Bishop Miege has approximately 600 students and competes in Class 4A. But it can draw students from the Kansas City metro area of about 1.7 million people. Meanwhile, public 4A schools such as Buhler High School are in an area of about 13,000 people. Bishop Miege has dominated the class, winning six of the past nine football titles, four of the last eight boys basketball championships, six of the last eight girls basketball championships and many more.

But opponents said the proposal would hurt their schools and is being pushed only because of the athletic success of a few private schools. They also said some public school districts have open enrollment and been able to build sports dynasties.  

Geoff Andrews, superintendent of the Catholic Schools in the Salina Diocese, said Sacred Heart Catholic High School would have to move up a class and compete against larger schools even though its football team, which doesn’t even have its own field, has been 2-25 over the past three years and been outscored 1,195-197.  He and other private school representatives noted that under the recently passed HB 2567, more public schools will soon utilize open enrollment.  

Rebecca Morrisey, principal of Topeka High School, in written testimony, urged the State Board to return the proposal to KSHSAA “to expand its scope to ensure true equity beyond just the public and private discussion.” Morrisey argued, “Penalizing only the private schools, and doing so across the board will certainly not provide equity across the board, and will in fact provide even further inequity to our larger schools with high populations of low socio-economic status families.”

Richard Mick, who has coached both public and private schools in Newton, said it seemed like most of the reason behind the proposal was because of the sports success of Bishop Miege. “If Bishop Miege is abusing their privileges, then find a way to `punish’ them. Don’t punish all the other private schools,” he said.

State Board member Betty Arnold, D-Wichita, said it seemed to her the only reason for the proposed change is because private schools have won a disproportionate share of championships, and that if they hadn’t “we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Bill Faflick, executive director of KSHSAA, said that was correct.