Among dozens of Kansas education bills filed in 2023 are proposals to adjust how public schools are funded or make it easier for families to send their children to private school.
Kansas lawmakers are also once again floating the idea of adding a back-to-school tax holiday, similar to those held by some neighboring states, and giving parents more access to information from schools.
Some of the proposals The Beacon reported on in a roundup of higher education bills also apply to K-12 education. Those include requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God we trust,” making it easier to evade vaccine requirements and keeping transgender women from playing on women’s sports teams.
To become law, a proposal would need to be approved by both houses and the governor — unless the Republican legislature has the votes necessary to override a veto by the Democratic governor.
Typically, bills sponsored by a committee are more likely to get a hearing and advance through the legislature. Most proposed bills do not get a hearing, and being referred to a committee does not guarantee a hearing.
K-12 education funding
Kansas’ school funding system has been shaped by decades of court battles. Several months ago, the state’s associations of superintendents and school boards told The Beacon they were largely happy with how funding is currently distributed.
Some legislation filed this year would change how it works, while other bills would preserve current features of the system.
One proposal, Senate Bill 122, is sponsored by the Senate Committee on Education. It would remove an expiration date for a piece of the funding formula that sends extra dollars to districts that have a high percentage of at-risk students.
The bill’s page on the legislature’s website says lobbyist Sean Miller requested that the bill be introduced on behalf of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wichita public schools. The weighting for schools with a high density of at-risk students is set to expire in mid-2024.
Miller also requested the similar House Bill 2223 on behalf of the group Schools for Fair Funding. It’s sponsored by the House Committee on Education.
House Bill 2040, sponsored by the Committee on Education and requested by Rep. Adam Thomas, an Olathe Republican, would allow schools to use their current enrollment to calculate funding. As they do currently, schools would also have the option of using either of the two preceding years.
A fiscal note for the proposal estimates that with the policy in place for fiscal year 2023, an additional 3,427 students in 104 school districts would be counted for an additional $17,487,981 in funding.
Requested for introduction by Rep. Kristey Williams of Augusta, the majority caucus chair, House Bill 2060 would create a task force on funding for special education.
Gov. Laura Kelly recently introduced a plan to raise special education funding in Kansas to mandated levels.
Supporting families outside of public schools
Kansas recently made it possible for students to transfer to public school districts where they aren’t residents, prompting some concerns about overcrowding and unpredictable enrollment.
This year, the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget, at the request of Thomas, is sponsoring House Bill 2048. The proposal would make donations to a private school scholarship program eligible for a 100% tax credit, rather than the 70% credit that exists today. It would also make more families eligible, including some with higher incomes.
The proposal received a hearing Jan. 25. Blue Valley Schools submitted written testimony against it, saying, in part that “private schools receiving public dollars, even by a decrease in state revenue, must be held to the same standards, requirements, and governance as that required of public schools.”
A group of four Republican senators is sponsoring Senate Bill 128, which would grant a refundable tax credit to families that don’t send their children to public school. The amount of the credit would be the same as the “BASE aid” (Base Aid for Student Excellence) that the state allocates to each public school student.
The Committee on Assessment and Taxation scheduled a hearing for the bill for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 9.
House Bill 2218 also would direct BASE aid dollars to families that don’t send their children to public schools. But instead of functioning through a tax credit, students would have an “education savings account” with funds that can be used for tuition and other expenses.
The proposal is sponsored by the Committee on K-12 Education budget and received a hearing Feb. 6.
House Bill 2030 would ensure that students who don’t attend public schools don’t miss out on extracurricular activities. The Committee on K-12 Education budget sponsored the bill and held a hearing for it Jan. 24.
It would allow nonpublic school students to participate in any public school activities regulated by the statewide high school activities association. Meanwhile, private school students who attend public school part time would still be eligible to participate in their private school’s activities.
Back-to-school tax holiday
Once again, some Kansas senators are pushing for the state to adopt a back-to-school tax holiday.
Last year, some senators argued a sales tax holiday could help families save money on state taxes while preventing Kansas from losing business to nearby states, like Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, that already have a tax holiday.
Senate Bill 21, Senate Bill 29 and Senate Bill 55 each propose a window over an early weekend in August during which school-related purchases such as clothing, technology and school supplies would be exempt from state sales tax.
Senate Bill 21 is sponsored by the Committee on Assessment and Taxation and received a hearing Jan. 19. Senate Bill 29 received a hearing from the committee the same day. It’s sponsored by a bipartisan group of five senators.
Senate Bill 55 is also sponsored by the committee. Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes of Johnson County requested that it be introduced.
Parental rights in another topic from last year that is making a return.
House Bill 2236 would ensure parents could opt their children out of instruction or activities they think are harmful or against their beliefs. It’s sponsored by the Committee on Education and is up for a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 8. Thomas asked that it be introduced.
Thomas also requested House Bill 2248, also sponsored by the education committee. The proposal would ensure parents could have access to their children’s educational and health records and could inspect any educational materials their children are exposed to including curriculum, books, handouts and surveys.
Local school boards
House Bill 2261 would allow school districts to pay school board members. The legislation was requested by Republican Rep. Rebecca Schmoe of Ottawa and is sponsored by the Committee on K-12 Education Budget.
Senate Bill 66, sponsored by the Committee on Education at the request of Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, would include the state in an interstate agreement to recognize teacher licenses across multiple states.
The purpose of the agreement would be to encourage teachers to stay in the profession even if they move to another state by removing barriers to staying licensed. States would retain some power to set their own requirements, especially when it comes time to renew a license.
Instruction in schools
Senate Bill 116, sponsored by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs, would allow schools to offer firearm safety training beginning in kindergarten and require the state board of education to establish guidelines.
Curriculum for grades K-8 could be based on the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program offered by the National Rifle Association. Curriculum for grades 6-12 could be based on the Hunter Education in Our Schools course from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Republican Sen. Chase Blasi of Wichita requested the legislation. A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 8.
House Bill 2224, sponsored by the Committee on Education, would increase the minimum number of school days that each school district would have to provide.
Currently, the minimum is 186 school days for most grades, and 181 for high school seniors. There’s also an option to count hours rather than days.
The legislation would remove the option to count hours. It would require a minimum of 195 school days that are at least eight hours long or 156 school days that are at least 10 hours long.
It was requested by Republican Rep. Bill Rhiley of Wellington.
Miranda Moore contributed to this report.
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