Bench outside Wichita South High School
Wichita South High School on West 33rd Street is among nine high schools in Wichita USD 259. In the first weeks of 2022, Kansas lawmakers introduced more than a dozen bills that could affect education in the state. (Matt Hennie/The Beacon)

Kansas legislators have introduced more than a dozen bills regarding K-12 and higher education in 2022, covering topics such as teacher pay, COVID vaccines and course materials.

The Kansas Legislature went into session Jan. 10 and lawmakers will likely continue to add new legislation to the list. 

The mix of education-related legislation also includes some bills from the 2021 session. In Kansas, proposals from odd-numbered years carry over into the following year if lawmakers haven’t reached a final decision on them. You can see about 15 of those older bills on the pages for the House committees on EducationHigher Education Budget and K-12 Education Budget and the Senate Committee on Education.  

Any given bill could be amended at many points during the process and would need to be approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Laura Kelly before becoming law. 

Here are some of the new topics on legislators’ minds at the start of the 2022 session. If you’d like to give lawmakers feedback on any of these issues, contact information is available on the House and Senate rosters. 

Increasing teacher pay

Rep. Brett Fairchild, a Republican from St. John, filed legislation (HB 2457) to require school districts to pay teachers more as their budgets expand. 

Starting with the 2023-24 school year, the proposal would require school districts to calculate how much their spending grew in the most recent year, then increase each full-time classroom teacher’s pay by at least the same percentage. 

COVID vaccine, cellphone use

proposal sponsored by five Republican representatives (HB 2498) would ban the Kansas secretary of health and environment from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for school. 

Currently, Kansas law says students should be up to date on their vaccines in order to attend school or child care, but it doesn’t specify which vaccines a student needs to be considered up to date. 

Instead, that list is determined by the Kansas secretary of health and environment and currently includes 11 vaccinations

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is not on the list. If the bill becomes law, the department secretary couldn’t add it. 

The Senate Committee on Transportation is sponsoring legislation (SB 332)  that would prohibit drivers from using a cellphone in a school zone at the times when school zone speed limits apply. 

The proposal wouldn’t apply to hands-free devices, in case of an emergency when it’s necessary to use the phone, or to for-hire drivers using a device attached to the dashboard to communicate with a dispatcher. 

It would also apply in construction zones and to minors under 18 no matter where they are driving.

Free community college scholarship changes

The Kansas Promise Act, which started a scholarship program providing free community college to students in specific high-demand fields, went into effect midway through 2021. Legislators already want to tweak it. 

Among other changes, a proposal sponsored by the Senate Committee on Education, SB 340, would limit the program to U.S. citizens only and allow schools to designate additional eligible programs. 

The scholarship already covers programs in information technology and security; mental and physical health care; advanced manufacturing and building trades; early childhood education and development, and one additional area based on local needs. Under the legislation, schools could also add a program area from the list of: 

  • agriculture;
  • food and natural resources;
  • education and training;
  • law, public safety, corrections and security;
  • distribution and logistics. 

The proposal also adds detail for how the program should be administered, including tracking results and recouping money from students who don’t meet the program’s requirement of working in Kansas for at least two years after completing their education. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates it would lead to $125,000 of administrative costs. 

Public school services for private school students

Legislation sponsored by the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget (HB 2514) would allow students attending religious or other private schools to also enroll in public school part time. 

Local school boards would establish policies related to part-time enrollment and districts would be required to make good-faith efforts to accommodate students’ schedules but wouldn’t have to agree to every request. 

Under a proposal sponsored by the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget (HB 2511), students in a public school district who attend a virtual school or a private school registered with the state could participate in the district’s extracurricular activities.

Those students would still have to meet normal requirements to participate in activities from the state activities association, and the district could require them to pay fees or take specific classes if other district students have to do the same.  

The HB 2511 proposal also adds board members and employees of the state activities association to the list of types of professionals who are required to report suspected child abuse.

Curriculum: Disclosing course materials, computer science requirement

School districts would have to publish lists of materials used in classes or teacher training under a proposal sponsored by the Senate Committee on Education (SB 363).

The list would include the title, author, organization and website, if applicable, for each material assigned or presented to students. A separate list would cover teacher training, and districts would also publish their procedures for reviewing materials. 

Lists would need to be fully updated by the last day of the school year and kept online for at least an additional year. They would not include full reproductions of the materials. For materials created as a single volume, schools would not have to report separately the components of that volume. 

School curriculums and reading materials have come under increased scrutiny as some parents and politicians criticize teaching on race and diversity in schools, which they often label “critical race theory.” 

A proposal filed by Rep. Steve Huebert, a Republican from Valley Center, would require all high schools to offer computer science courses by the 2023-24 school year. Starting with the freshman class that enters in 2025-26, HB 2466 would require most students to earn a computer science credit to graduate. 

The legislation sets aside money for grants to teacher preparation programs that can train educators in computer science. 

Students who speak American Sign Language

Legislation sponsored by the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs (SB 372) would allow students who speak American Sign Language as a “foundational” language to continue receiving special education services and/or continue attending the Kansas School for the Deaf even if they “gain access to hearing” through a device, medical treatment or natural cause. 

The proposal states that it is “in recognition of the academic, social and developmental benefits of American Sign Language as a foundational language and bridge to American Sign Language and English bilingual education.” 

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.