Senate Education Committee votes to send voucher bill to full Senate

The Senate Education Committee rejected all attempts to amend Senate Bill 61, the expansion of the state’s tuition tax credit/voucher program, and sent it out for consideration by the full Senate on a 6-3 vote with Senators Dinah Sykes (D-Lenexa), Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City), and Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) voting NO.

What does SB 61 do?

  • This bill changes the current program by allowing students from any public school to get a scholarship (voucher); currently only students in the 100 lowest performing elementary schools are eligible.
  • Secondly, the bill expands eligibility from just free lunch eligible students to free and reduced lunch eligible students.
  • When originally passed, this program was sold as a way to help struggling students in low-performing schools find opportunities in private schools. The changes that have been enacted since the initial passage, along with the proposed changes in SB 61, completely change the intent of the program.

What makes this bill wrong?

  • First, it does not focus on students who are struggling or at-risk. The expansion encourages private schools to recruit high performing, low income students from any school, leaving the struggling children where they are. 
  • Secondly, the expansion to high schools promotes recruitment for athletic ability. Private schools will be able to recruit low-income student athletes in order to boost their own athletic standing. 
  • Finally, 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 and 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. 

Amendments by Senator Sykes would have returned the program to its original intent – helping struggling children in low-performing schools. Sykes attempted to keep the focus on low-performing schools, changing student eligibility from poverty to enrollment in an approved at-risk program, and requiring eligible schools to be accredited through KESA so that student performance could be tracked and reported. The majority of the committee choose to reject all amendments and promote the recruitment of high-achieving or athletically gifted low-income students into private schools at state expense.

An identical bill, HB 2068, has had a hearing in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee. An even more onerous voucher bill, HB 2119, will have a hearing on Monday in the same committee.

PLEASE NOTE: As these voucher schemes move through the process, we urge you to activate your networks and be prepared to respond to new alerts.

High-stakes civics test under consideration

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2039, a bill by Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) that would establish passage of a civics exam for high school graduation. KNEA testified against the bill as did the Kansas State Board of Education, Kansas Association of School Boards, and United School Administrators. The arguments against the bill are essentially that decisions on curriculum standards and assessments are the responsibility of members of state board of education, not legislators.

High-stakes testing, as we know from the “No Child Left Behind” federal initiative, results in teaching to the test. If the test is what determines one’s future, why bother with any other learning? Government teachers are free now to utilize the citizenship test if they so choose; in fact, a teacher testifying on Wednesday said he uses the test as a pre- and post-test to make sure he effectively covered the basics.

KNEA argued Kansas legislators are certainly within their rights to call attention to the matter but that a more appropriate approach would be to call upon the Kansas State Board of Education to take the matter under consideration; to examine the standards and assessments currently being used and how we can make sure that they reflect what we really want our students to know and be able to do.

No action was taken on the bill on Wednesday.