Posted Date: 08/10/2022
State Board of Education Chairman Jim Porter has asked for a legal review of parts of the omnibus education bill approved by the Legislature during the last session, and he and other board members said the board needs to develop a strategy to address inaccurate rhetoric about Kansas public schools.
Concerning HB 2567, Porter, R-Fredonia, said on Tuesday that portions of it “may not be in the best interest of the state.”
The bill included funding for schools for the current school year, but also numerous policy provisions pushed forward by frequent critics of public schools.
One provision calls on the Kansas State Department of Education to hire a virtual math education program that districts would have the option of using. Initially, state Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, who is chair of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, had pushed for a bill that would have required districts to utilize a Florida group called Math Nation, and to pay for it out of their own budgets. The provision was changed to an optional program that will be funded by federal COVID-19 dollars. Porter said he wanted to know what the board’s responsibilities are under this provision.
The bill also calls for all students to be able to read on grade level by third-grade, but Porter had questions about what could be used to measure reading level.
Another provision Porter found problems with was new restrictions on the use of student questionnaires and surveys. He said that could impede school districts’ abilities to find out about instances of child abuse or neglect.
He also said he was concerned with parts of the bill that deal with getting course credits through alternative programs, changing the way graduation rates are calculated, and new requirements on allowing part-time enrollment.
Porter requested the State Board’s attorney to research these issues and provide legal advice in closed session during the board’s meeting next month.
Board members also had a wide-ranging discussion on what they said were inaccurate statements made during the recent Republican Party primary. Members said there were accusations that Critical Race Theory was being taught in the classroom and that board members belonged to an organization that referred to parents as terrorists. Neither is true.
The discussion also veered into common criticisms of public education.
Board member Betty Arnold, D-Wichita, said schools need to brag more about the great things they are doing.
Board member Michelle Dombrosky, R-Olathe, said if parents are unhappy with a book that is being taught at school, or a section that deals with depression and suicide, they have the right to talk to the teacher and opt their student out from those materials and discussions. “Parents have to be involved in their child’s education,” she said.
Board member Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said when she served on the local school board, parents always had the right to have their child opt out of reading books that they found objectionable. “We’ve always respected parents’ opinions,” Waugh said.
But Arnold disagreed, saying, “There are many parents who are not heard. There are many parents who are dismissed.”