Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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Mostly quiet today… mostly.

May 8, 2017 by

As legislators returned to the statehouse today, most were looking forward to a week of steady, but not necessarily frantic work.  The full House gathered briefly this morning, but our attention was drawn to the Old Supreme Court room where the House K-12 Budget Committee was to meet.  And meet they did, for about 2.5 hours to work on Proposed Substitute for House Bill 2410.  This is the bill the committee is working to amend, tighten, and present as the fix to school funding that will hopefully pass court muster.

Last week, former Senator Jeff King who has been hired as legal counsel, basically said that it is time for gamesmanship to end and that the Supreme Court ruling on adequacy was a very direct charge to provide full constitutional funding for all public schools and that particular attention should be given to students identified as “at-risk.”  King’s remarks essentially shut down the argument brought by some staunch conservatives that adequacy was only about at-risk students and not about providing full constitutional funding for all public schools.

Still, some ideologies are hard to break, to whit, Rep. Brenda Landwehr was one of the first to speak at the opening of the committee meeting.  Landwehr expressed- in no uncertain terms- her belief that the current bill up for consideration failed to deliver mechanisms for accountability and the consequences necessary to punish districts who did not meet new accreditation requirements due to lack of adequate academic progress.  It seems that the “test and punish” culture of “no child left behind” is something Landwehr refuses to leave behind.  Others like Rep. Scott Schwab agreed with Landwehr.  “We’re in a catch 22” Schwab lamented, stating that new accreditation requirements fail to address individual failing schools within a district (although he admitted there are few), and that the cycle would eventually mean “I’m back in court.”  Rep. Melissa Rooker, one of the bill’s chief architects, was able to assure the committee that there are mechanisms in place to ensure accountability while also providing for paths to success and improvement.

More amendments followed, all were carried favorably, although some after vigorous discussion.  Chief among them were:

  • Provision to “grandfather” districts such that none lose transportation funding under a move to a new transportation formula.
  • Amendment by Rep Rooker to count pre-k at risk students in current year rather than previous year so that more can access a special pool of state funding for building new early childhood, at-risk programs.  Rooker suggested that although the pool of money was relatively small $2 million, it was one more step the legislature could take to show that it recognizes how “extraordinarily important” early childhood and at-risk programs are.
  • Another Rooker amendment seeks to tighten language under the current definition of “at-risk.”  (See a draft of proposed changes here).

One final amendment proposed by Rep Landwehr, but ultimately withdrawn, sought to impose upon the KSDE to create a new report to the legislature.  This report would be a “quick look” style report of information gathered from other existing reports.  Several committee members were opposed to adding this unfunded responsibility to KSDE, citing increased pressure on staff and resources to create a report that essentially duplicates other reports.  KSDE’s venerable Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis responded in his typical endearing and folksy way to a committee member who asked if this would present an increased workload on already stretched staff.  “I’ll be shot if I say yes, but I’d be lying if I say no.”  Landwehr ultimately withdrew the amendment but promised to revise it and bring it back to the committee.

No announcement was made for the next committee meeting time, although legislative schedules show a standing meeting throughout the week.

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