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What's in the new education bill that came out of House K-12 and our concerns

Posted Date: 02/26/2021

What's in the new education bill that came out of House K-12 and our concerns

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee on Thursday passed a bill that includes both K-12 appropriations (school finance aid and Kansas State Department of Education budget) and a number of other education policy provisions in a single bill, HB 2119, which previously contained only a new provision of education savings accounts.

Based on a preliminary analysis by KASB, here are the contents of the bill as amended: 

Education Savings Accounts for Private Schools 

The bill creates a new program, beginning July 1, 2022, that would allow eligible students to have all or a portion of an amount equal to the prior year’s base state aid per pupil placed in an account managed by the State Treasurer to be used for authorized education purposes. 

Eligible students would have to be currently enrolled in a public school and qualified for free or reduced meals or have been identified by the resident school district as eligible for at-risk educational services because of below grade level performance in English language arts or mathematics, high rate of absenteeism, or for any other reason specified by the school district. (A third qualifier in the original bill, having been in a remote or hybrid learning environment for a minimum period of time, was deleted.) 

A student could enroll full-time in a non-public school and receive the full base state aid for the previous year, or could enroll part-time in a public school and receive a proportional amount (i.e. half time in a public school and receive 50 percent of base aid). 

Funds could be used to attend either an accredited private school or nonaccredited private school that provides specified instruction required in current law and is approved by the State Treasurer, but a qualified private school would not mean any nonaccredited private home school or home school organization, community, consortium, or group. 

Other allowable uses of the account include: Tuition and fees charged by qualified schools; textbooks and supplies required by qualified schools; costs for transporting students to qualified schools, if the qualified school provides transportation; educational therapies or services provided by a licensed or accredited education provider; tutoring provided by a certified tutor; curriculum materials; tuition or fees charged by an accredited private online learning program; fees for any nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, advanced placement examination or other examination related to admission to a postsecondary educational institution; classes, services, programs, activities, classes or any other resources or programs provided or contracted by a school district; tuition and fees charged by a postsecondary educational institution; and any other education expenses approved by the Treasurer. 

If a student leaves a public school district to attend a private school, the district will continue to receive the student’s weighting amounts for up to three years. The bill not does not change the provision in current law allowing districts use the higher of the prior or second prior year unweighted enrollment for funding in the current year, so the budget impact of losing students will not be immediate. However, over time districts will have less funding if they have fewer students due to the program. 

Expansion of Private School Tax Credits (HB 2068 and SB 61) 

The bill now includes an expansion of students eligible for the current private school tax credit program, which provides state income tax credits for contributions made to organizations granting scholarships for certain students to attend qualified private schools. 

First, the bill amends the definition of “eligible student” to include students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals under the National School Lunch Program, rather than free lunch only under current law. 

Second, the bill would allow such students attending any Kansas public school to attend. Current law defining public school limits eligibility to those students enrolled or eligible to be enrolled in the lowest 100 performing elementary schools, as identified by the State Board of Education. 

The bill also adds some additional reporting requirements for participating private schools. Under current law qualified private schools must either be accredited by the State Board of Education or a national or regional accrediting agency that is recognized by the State Board for the purpose of satisfying the teaching performance assessment for professional licensure. 

This bill does not change the current $10 million cap on tax credits from the state. The program has never used all of the tax credit authority. 

(The Senate has already passed an identical expansion of tax credit scholarship eligibility in SB 61.) 

School board allocation of funding (HB 2067 and SB 93) 

The bill includes language previously passed by the committee in HB 2067 which amends current law that requires the board of education of each school district to assess the educational needs of each school in the district and requires the information from the needs assessment to be used when preparing the school district’s budget. The bill adds a new requirement that information obtained from the needs assessments be used to ensure improvement in student academic performance and would also require school district budgets to allocate sufficient moneys in a manner reasonably calculated to ensure all students achieve the "Rose capacities," which are codified in state law as education goals.

Limit on school term days or hours in remote learning 

The bill amends state laws regarding the minimum school term of 186 days or 1,116 hours for most students. Day or hours may be counted only if each student enrolled may physically attend school in person on a full-time basis, with the following exception. 

The State Board of Education may authorize a district to provide up to 40 days or 240 hours in remote learning upon application by a district for a waiver based on a disaster that will restrict the closure of the school district for an inordinate period of time. A disaster includes an emergency declared by the Governor, closure of schools by county board of health or health officer, the secretary of health and environment, or widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life caused by any natural or manmade cause. 

Funding for students in extended remote learning 

The includes a provision that beginning in the 2021-22 school year, if a student has been in remote learning for more than 240 hours under a state or emergency disaster or 40 hours when no state of disaster has been declared, the student should be counted for funding purposes in the current year as remote student and the district receives $5,000 for the student rather than base state aid and weightings. 

This is the funding amount provided for students in virtual school programs. It means that should districts have students in remote learning for more than this period of time during a year, the budget would be adjusted, and funding reduced in the current year. 

Reauthorization of the 20-mill statewide levy 

The bill would reauthorize the statewide mill levy for school districts for two additional years. Under the Kansas Constitution, the levy cannot be adopted for more than two years at a time. 

School Finance Programs 

The bill contains appropriations for general state aid to fund the base state levels approved by the Gannon school finance plan for the current year and the next two years, a $7.5 million increase in special education state aid each year, and increases in local option budget, capital improvement and capital outlay state aid, and KPERS contributions based on November school finance estimates and recommended by the Governor. (However, the bill does not extend the sunset on the high-density weighting until 2023, as contained in the Governor’s budget recommendation.) 

Other Programs 

The bill directs the State Department of Education to use federal COVID aid, if possible, to provide enhancements to Kansas school safety grants, expansion of the school mental health pilot program, Community in Schools programs, and the language assessment program at the Kansas School for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired. 

Teacher Bonuses 

The bill contains a non-binding direction to local school board to use federal COVID aid to provide a one-time, $500 bonus to classroom teachers. 

Here are concerns KASB has with the bill:

Public Funding for Private Schools

Private schools are not required to accept all students, and may have different standards for admission, discipline and academic progress, and do not have to offer programs like special education. As a result, expanding public funding of private schools could lead to “two-tier” education system, with private schools serving the students they choose and public school serving all other students, including those more likely to have special needs and greater learning challenges.

Providing public funding for school “choice” doesn’t help the family if private schools cannot or will not serve them.

Because of Kansas’ enrollment-based school funding, funding more students in private schools means less funding for students in public schools, a particular problem if public schools are left with more expensive students.

There is a $10 million cap on state tax credits for the current program. There is no cap or limit on the proposed savings accounts.

Only state accredited schools are required to administer assessments and provide other information about students and academic performance. Private schools in the tax credit program may be accredited by other national and regional bodies without providing comparable information.

Private schools in the proposed education savings account program are not required to be accredited by any agency.

The education savings account program contains some short-term protections against loss of funding by school districts, but that also adds to the “up front” cost of the program.

The fiscal note indicates that if 10 percent of Kansas students used the program, it would cost the state over $217 million to start education savings accounts at the base state aid amount and almost $70 million in to replace weightings. Eventually, the school districts would lose that amount of funding, which would increase as the base increases.

School board allocation of funding (HB 2067 and SB 93)

This provision directs school boards to use data from a needs assessments at the school building level to improve student achievement, and to allocate budget resources to achieve state education goals. There is no specific directive on how to do this.

KASB has testified against this legislation because proponents have frequently linked it to the state goal of spending 65 percent of funds on instruction or “in the classroom,” which is not defined.

Not only is there no evidence that the percentage of funding spent on various areas leads to better outcomes, instruction does not include budget items that have provide to “in person” learning such as mental health services and counseling, or school facilities and operations.

In fact, this bill adds funding for areas that not considered instruction, such as school safety grants and mental health services.

Remote Learning Limits

Provisions limiting the time a district can be in remote learning and reducing funding for students in remote learning over certain limits were added without hearings on those specific proposals.

It is premature to make permanent changes in state law when we still do not know the full impact of time in remote and hybrid learning.

These provisions could either pressure school districts to provide in person learning when significant safety issues remain, or simply suspend school operations without ANY learning opportunities for students, resulting in the same problems for working families with no school support.

Reducing funding for students in remote learning after a specified number of times could be a disincentive to give students more remote learning options while still providing other support from the district.

Virtual student programs typically are only organized to provide learning online. That should not be the same funding for students who may wish to receive a portion of learning online but also receive in person support and spent part of the time on site.

Reauthorization of the 20-mill statewide levy

This is critical to the school finance formula.

School Finance Programs

Passage of funding for the Gannon school finance is critical to restoring base funding lost to inflation, improving student learning and support services, catching up with other states for per pupil funding and salaries, and remaining in compliance with the Kansas Supreme Court.

We believe the sunset on high density at-risk weighting, which provides over $50 million to districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students, should be removed.

Other Programs

The bill adds funding for certain programs generally supported by KASB and other educational organizations, by directing the Kansas State Department of Education to use federal COVID-19 funding if available. This would appear to be one-time funding based on available federal aid. Districts seeking these funds would have to decide whether one-time funding is better than no funding.

Teacher Bonuses

The bill contains a non-binding direction to local school board to use federal COVID aid to provide a one-time, $500 bonus to classroom teachers.

With the increased funding through Base State Aid under the Gannon plan, districts have already been providing higher base salary increases. Deciding whether to provide such bonuses would likely be based on (1) authorization to use federal COVID aid for this purpose, (2) whether to include other school employees, and (3) how to balance the cost of such bonuses with additional spending student and staff health and safety and student learning recovery.