Special Legislative Committee on Kansas Emergency Management Act meets

The Kansas Legislature formed a special committee to review and suggest changes to the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) with the intention of bringing proposals for change to the 2021 legislative session. One day of the meeting featured presentations by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), chair of the House K-12 Budget Committee, and Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson.

Williams came armed with six proposals for the committee to consider. First, she suggested that private accredited schools not be under the authority of the state board of education when it comes to executive orders on closing or delaying the start of schools. The legislature changed the KEMA to require that, should the Governor issue an executive order that had the effect of closing schools, that order would have to be adopted by the board in order to go into effect. As you know, board members rejected the Governor’s order delaying the start of school until after Labor Day. Williams’ intent is clear: This action would allow private schools to ignore an order adopted by the board and remain open which would likely become a recruiting opportunity for private schools. But it would also have the effect of lumping private schools in with businesses; meaning, if businesses were closed, those schools would be as well.

Her second proposal would put a contact hours requirement on remote learning into statute. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has already required remote learners to report the hours spent engaged in school assignments via a learning log completed by parents, submitted to the schools, and reported to KSDE. These logs would be used to guide the distribution of education funding to public schools. There is, of course, an ongoing debate as to whether contact hours is the best way to determine learning. Commissioner Watson later noted that remote learning would push us to more consideration of the value of competency-based learning versus contact hours.

Williams’ third proposal would put into statute language codifying Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s opinion that local school boards could overturn or weaken executive orders. Later in the meeting, the Kansas Association of Counties noted that having multiple boards (county commissions, school boards, health departments) all issuing their own versions of any executive order was causing confusion and encouraging people to “shop around” for the decision they preferred.

Her fourth suggestion was a little vague and not fleshed out. It was a suggestion that the committee might want to consider what “ambiguities” they need to address when it comes to education.

After expressing some typical KPI (Kansas Policy Institute) talking points about the failure of public schools to address the needs of at-risk students, Williams suggested considering a requirement that schools provide one-on-one remediation for at-risk students to make up for any loss as a result of school closures.

Finally, for her sixth suggestion, Williams got to her favorite topic – diverting public money to private schools. Yes, she suggested vouchers be provided for parents who decided to leave public schools and enroll their children in private schools. Because in Williams’ mind, a private school is by definition a better school. Don’t let data interfere with your thinking. Let’s be clear about “school choice.” Those private schools where the student population is comparable to that of public schools do not perform better than public schools. But some private schools do perform quite well. That’s because “school choice” is a program under which the private school chooses which students to educate. Having a voucher does not give parents the ability to choose but their child might be chosen by the school if he/she passes the admission test, has no disability, is of the right religion, does not have parents in a same-sex relationship, and understands that any violation of a school rule will result in expulsion with no right to due process.

Signs like this “Hayden Chosen” sign for Topeka’s private Hayden High School, pop-up around Kansas each year as new recruits are are accepted to private schools. For every “chosen” student, how many are not chosen?

Commissioner Watson followed Williams and focused his remarks on the work done in creating the “Navigating Change” document that is being used to guide schools districts in providing a quality education while protecting the health and safety of students and staff.

Watson compared the work that schools are doing now to putting together a complicated puzzle. He noted that Dwight Eisenhower, when talking about D-Day, once said that massive planning went into the invasion but once troops hit the beach, that planning didn’t matter. What really mattered was the quality of the work done ahead of time to get to the beach and the ability to adjust and pivot as circumstances change. And all of that was dependent on the quality of the people who put the plans together that would allow for the “boots on the ground” to manage adjustments. Watson lauded the hundreds of Kansas educators and citizens who participated in developing the Navigating Change document.

On Again, Off Again, On Again: the continuing saga of the race for House District 37

In a surprise upset, long time incumbent House member Stan Frownfelter (D-Kansas City) lost his primary this year to 19-year-old Aaron Coleman by 14 votes.

But it was revealed that Coleman had participated in bullying and blackmailing teenage girls during middle school and amid the pressures brought on by responding to those revelations, Coleman announced that he would seek to have his name removed from the ballot. If that was approved, precinct committeepersons would then select a replacement candidate. That would likely be Frownfelter. In the meantime, Frownfelter announced he would be mounting a write-in campaign. There is no Republican on the ballot and the Kansas Democratic Party has disavowed Coleman due to the revelations about his treatment of women.

Once Coleman announced in a press release that he would be asking to be removed from the ballot, there was a general sigh of relief which lasted all of 24 hours. That’s when Coleman announced he had changed his mind about dropping out and would continue with the race. He was inspired to change by an article in The Intercept, a liberal-leaning publication, that attacked Frownfelter’s legislative record. Coleman also said that voters had reached out to him suggesting that “all of us have sinned and we all make mistakes.”

This brings us to today (another 24 hours has passed) and revelations in The Topeka Capital-Journal that Coleman was abusive to a girlfriend and had threatened to kill her. But this was not in middle school. This relationship ended in January. The Capital-Journal gained access to a string of text messages in which Coleman called the woman a term used to denigrate people with specific mental exceptionalities. Also in the text messages was threatening language of a violent and sexual nature. We have chosen not to republish the specific language included in the text messages that are alleged to have come from Coleman, but you can view them as published by the Capital-Journal here.

We don’t know yet how the latest revelations will impact the race. If Coleman again decides to ask for his name to be removed from the ballot, he must meet one of several requirements. It’s not easy to withdraw after you’ve won a primary. Reasons include medical emergencies for the candidate or a family member, moving out of the district, or death. Coleman had earlier said he would pursue the removal in order to focus on his father who in currently in the hospital.