Lots of cancellations

We started the week with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and then had to deal with the threat of possible inauguration violence in light of the events of January 6 and subsequent warnings from the FBI. In response, the Kansas Statehouse was closed down for the most part. Committees were cancelled and their agendas were moved to later dates. Both chambers met pro forma so that legislators could stay home. Things just started to pick up again on Thursday. On Friday, we were back to no committee meetings.

We did see some voucher movement

Rep. Brenda Landwehr’s (R-Wichita) expansion of the state’s tuition tax credit/scholarship/voucher bill, having been introduced, was given a briefing along with a presentation from a pro-voucher think tank in a virtual meeting on Inauguration Day. The presentation was on the Espinoza v Montana Supreme Court case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that if a state had a program allowing students to attend private schools using public money, the program could not disallow participation by a religious school simply because it is a religious school. In other words, if the program sends kids to secular private schools using state money, the state would have to allow kids to attend religious schools as well. Of course, a state does not have to use state money to send kids to private schools at all. The Kansas program already allows kids to attend religious schools so Espinoza really doesn’t apply to the Kansas program.

Landwehr’s bill, HB 2068, will get a hearing next Tuesday in the House K-12 Budget Committee. Her bill dramatically expands eligibility for the vouchers and reverses the original intent of the program which was to let struggling, low-income children move from low-performing public elementary schools to private schools. The Landwehr expansion will allow private schools to cherry pick high achieving low-income students or skilled low-income student athletes from any public K-12 school and recruit them into private schools. Since school choice programs operate on the premise that the choice of who to take or not take is up to the school and not the parent, the Landwehr bill will function primarily to leave struggling students in public schools while taking the highest performing students.

There are really three things that make this bill wrong for Kansas:

  • It does not focus on students who are struggling or at-risk; the expansion encourages private schools to cherry-pick high performing low income students from any school, leaving the struggling children where they are,
  • The expansion to high schools also promotes cherry-picking for athletic ability, and
  • There is no accountability for student performance in the program. There is no required reporting of student success in the private school versus the public school. There is no requirement that the private school be a state-accredited private school. Without a requirement that the private school participate in the state accreditation system, there is no ability to even compare the private school performance overall to the public school. We may be sending students to failing private schools with state money. 

We believe an identical bill has been introduced in the Senate. It was requested by Ace Scholarships; and from the sound of it, it would appear to be the same as HB 2068. We have not seen the bill in writing yet but it will also have a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

Bilingual Education Audit is heard

Heidi Zimmerman of the Division of the Legislative Post Audit presented the audit of bilingual education ordered by the school finance plan. You can read the full report by clicking here.

Here’s what the abstract had to say:

In 2018-19, the state provided $42 million in dedicated funding for K-12 school districts to serve students who are English language learners. Most of the 25 districts we reviewed reported spending more to provide bilingual services than they received in state bilingual funding. State funding covered 68% of the total $30.9 million in ESOL expenditures for the 25 districts we reviewed. Most ESOL program expenditures were for salaries and benefits of staff who provide services to English learners. About 6% ($604,000) of the $9.8 million in expenditures we reviewed in-depth were not directly attributable to an ESOL program as required by state law. But most expenditures we reviewed appeared to comply with KSDE’s spending rules for state bilingual funding. In the years we reviewed, KSDE calculated bilingual funding correctly and complied with other state laws. Finally, ESOL students typically took 5 to 8 years to complete an ESOL program. But even after students complete an ESOL program, they generally did not score as well on state assessments compared to all students.

K-12 Education: Evaluating Bilingual Funding and Expenditures

Just like in the at-risk study released last year, school districts are spending far more on bilingual education to meet the needs of language minority students than the state provides. Of the districts studied closely, state funding covered only 68% of the costs of providing programs. Beyond that, most expenditures complied with KSDE spending rules for bilingual funding and KSDE correctly complied with state laws.

The K-12 Budget Committee has pursued legislation that would cut off bilingual aid after a student was in the program for three years. Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), Brenda Landwehr and others argued that three years is plenty of time to become fluent in English. KNEA fought back against those proposals in years past. The audit noted that it takes students five to eight years to complete a program and pass a language assessment but even then, they tend to have lower performance on state assessments.

At one point during the briefing, Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) took issue with the fact that some bilingual money is used to augment the salaries of regular classroom teachers who do not have bilingual certification. His remarks indicated a belief that these teachers are not meeting the needs of bilingual students. He got push-back from Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-Bonner Springs) who shared his own experience working in Kansas City and the efforts he made to adjust instruction to make content understandable to students with limited English proficiency.

No training, no skills, no license needed

Six Republican Senators – Richard Hilderbrand (Galena), Michael Fagg (El Dorado), Mark Steffen (Hutchinson), Alicia Straub (Ellinwood), Mike Thompson (Shawnee) and Rich Wilborn (McPherson) – have introduced a bill intended to essentially do away with occupational licensing and regulation by the state. The only exclusion would be for lawyers. Senate Bill 10 is titled “Enacting the right to earn a living act to minimize unnecessary occupational licensing and regulation.”

Asserting that “the right of individuals to pursue a chosen profession, free from arbitrary or excessive government interference, is a fundamental civil right,” these Senators propose that every licensing or certificate granting agency must review all requirements and then limit the requirements to those that “legitimate health, safety and welfare objectives.”

Understand that this bill applies to every certification or license for every profession in Kansas except the legal profession. The only agencies with an exception are the judicial branch and the legislative branch (we don’t think you need a license to be a legislator!).