Senate votes down voucher-palooza budget bill!

A strong bipartisan group of Kansas Senators – 11 Democrats and 9 Republicans – stood up for our neighborhood public schools and voted down Senate Bill 175. This bill contained the K-12 budget but also expanded the current tuition tax credit voucher program and created another massive new voucher program which would have sent state resources to unaccredited private schools with no accountability. There were other onerous provisions in the bill including one that would have drastically cut funding for students who choose to remain in remote learning plans.

While this action does reject the K-12 budget, it was taken not against the budget itself but for linking the budget with so many controversial and burdensome policy proposals. House Appropriations Chairman Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill) later assured House members the budget negotiators would make certain the K-12 budget was included in the omnibus appropriations bill to be worked in May.

Kudos to the members of the Kansas Legislature who voted NO on SB 175 in both the House and the Senate. They are House members Alcala, Amyx, Baker, Ballard, Bishop, Borjon, Burroughs, Byers, Carlin, Carlson, Carmichael, Clark, Clayton, Coleman, Concannon, Curtis, Day, Dodson, Ellis, Eplee, Featherston, Finney, Gartner, Haswood, Helgerson, Henderson, Highberger, Hoheisel, Hoye, Jennings, Kelly, Kuether, Long, Miller, Minnix, Neighbor, Ohaebosim, Orr, Ousley, Parker, Patton, Poskin, Probst, Proehl, Ralph, L.Ruiz, S. Ruiz, Sawyer, Schreiber, Stogsdill, Thompson, Vaughn, Victors, Weigel, Wheeler, Winn, Wolfe Moore, Woodard, and Xu. The Senators: Bowers, Corson, Dietrich, Doll, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Holland, Holscher, Kerschen, Kloos, Longbine, McGinn, O’Shea, Olson, Pettey, Pittman, Sykes, and Ware.

Legislature approves bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls sports

This year’s culture wars have spawned mean-spirited anti-transgender bills across the nation and Kansas was not left out. Senate Bill 55 (originally SB 208) was introduced by Senator Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and would ban transgender girls from playing on girls K-12 sports teams and on college teams in Kansas.

Proponents of the bill assert girls are losing opportunities because stronger, tougher trans girls will win all the competitions despite no evidence to support that contention. According to the Kansas State High School Activities Association, there are five transgender students on sports teams in K-12 schools. Opponents, including KNEA, argue the bill would legitimize discrimination and bullying and lead to harm to transgender youth including the possibility of increased suicides. Other opponents, including several chambers of commerce, note that such a discriminatory bill would discourage economic investment, and drive away potential employees. They said it will also cause Kansas to lose conventions and sporting events including an NCAA tournament scheduled for Wichita in 2022 and a bid for bringing World Cup Soccer to the Kansas City area.

The bill passed the House on a vote of 76 to 43 and the Senate on a vote of 26 to 11.

Legislature approves bill micromanaging curriculum and assessment

House Bill 2039, which usurps the authority of the Kansas State Board of Education in matters of curriculum, assessment, and graduation requirements, has passed both chambers. This bill would require all high schools students to pass the U.S. citizenship test to prove they are ready for civic engagement before graduating from high school. The pathetic part is that, while there is nothing wrong with the test itself, to elevate what is essentially an American trivia test above everything else done in a civics or government class is to water down actual instruction in civics.

When we took the test, we got questions like, “Who is the current Vice President of the United States? “What ocean is on the west coast of the United States?” “Where is the Statue of Liberty?” Nice to know maybe, but not civics.

The bill was amended to included a one semester class in financial literacy required for high school graduation. Despite the fact that research demonstrates such classes have no impact on financial decisions later, making this class a requirement will serve to crowd other classes taken as electives – band, choir, visual arts, drama, foreign languages, advanced math or science – out of a student’s schedule. While that might be no big deal to some students, to others it is a critical point. Take for example the students applying for admission to highly selective colleges and universities who want four years of French, math, and science.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a financial literacy class but decisions like this should be left – and we believe must be left under the Kansas Constitution – to the elected state board of education members. As the legislature continues to marginalize the state board and usurp their authority, we wonder if the board has ever thought of challenging these kinds of measures.

During floor discussion, the bill’s champions – Steve Huebert (R- Valley Center) and Adam Thomas (R-Olathe) kept putting heavy emphasis on the word “bipartisan,” characterizing this bill as a strong bipartisan effort. Let’s make it clear – this was not a bipartisan effort. Taking the votes in both chambers (72 to 51 in the House; 25 to 13 in the Senate), only one Democrat voted for the bill. In the Senate, three Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting NO while in the House, 15 Republicans joined 38 Democrats. The only bipartisan aspect of this bill was the opposition!