Kansas state capitol building
The Kansas Statehouse building (Canva image)

New Kansas education laws will allow private school and home-schooled students to access more publicly funded resources and will create a new scholarship for adult learners in high-demand fields. 

Those measures are among the education bills that Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law this spring, including an extensive education budget and policy bill she approved May 18. 

Other education measures became law through a different path: Legislators overrode the governor’s vetoes to restrict transgender girls from playing on female sports teams and require students to be separated by biological sex rather than gender identity for overnight school travel.  

Here are the measures that cleared the final hurdle to become law and those that fell short. 

Preventing schools from affirming transgender students’ gender identity

In votes that largely fell along party lines, the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode Kelly’s vetoes of House Bill 2138 and House Bill 2238, known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” to separate students by their biological sex rather than their gender identity. 

Starting July 1, school officials have to separate students of different biological sexes when traveling overnight for school. 

The women’s sports law also prohibits students whose sex assigned at birth was male from playing on female-designated sports teams, preventing transgender girls and women from participating. It applies to public K-12 schools, colleges and universities and any private schools that compete against public schools. The law does not prohibit transgender boys from playing on male-designated teams. 

In a message released on March 17 with her veto of HB 2238, Kelly denounced the measure as “political” and said that instead of helping students, it would actually harm their mental health.

Boosting public support for private school students

Families with higher household income levels will be eligible for funds to send their children to private schools through Kansas’ state-sponsored Tax Credit for Low Income Student Scholarship Program. This year’s education budget legislation boosts the program’s income cap from 185% of the federal poverty level to 250%. Donors to organizations that grant the scholarships can now receive a 75% tax credit, up from 70%. 

The schools families choose don’t have to be accredited but must be working toward accreditation. 

Now private school and home-schooled students can also participate in activities at public schools such as sports, debate and music that are regulated by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Before, schools could require some students to enroll in classes as a condition of participating in an extracurricular activity. Now, schools can only have that requirement if it’s applied to all students participating in an activity. Students and families still have to follow health-related rules and pay any required fees. 

Adjusting the formula for school funding

The education spending law also tweaks how school district funding is calculated. 

Kelly vetoed an item that would have penalized schools with declining enrollment, affecting around 100 districts, particularly in rural areas of the state. But she accepted the rest of the bill, which extends the timeline for districts with a high percentage of students considered at-risk to receive additional state funding. An earlier version of that measure was introduced on behalf of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wichita schools.  

Paying school board members

School board members can be compensated under this year’s education spending measure. Before this law, Kansas school board members served as unpaid volunteers. The law does not specify a compensation amount.

Lowering a barrier to teacher licensing 

Kansas will become a member of the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, which will go into effect when at least 10 states join, under Senate Bill 66. The compact creates an expedited pathway for certified teachers to receive a similar license when they move to a different state. 

Helping older students enter growing industries 

College students who are at least 25 years old could be eligible for up to $3,000 per semester if they are studying high-demand fields such as information technology, health care or education. 

Depending on the college, the scholarships could cover all or a significant amount of tuition and fees. Costs to attend state universities in the 2022-23 school year ranged from $2,721.90 per semester at Fort Hays State University to $5,583.60 at the University of Kansas, according to the Kansas Board of Regents. 

Students must be Kansas residents and meet income requirements to receive the awards, which can be used for up to four years at public or private schools. Income caps begin at $100,000 for a family of two and $150,000 for a family of three, plus $4,800 for each additional family member. 

Fields of study for the scholarship program 

  • Information technology and security.
  • Health care and nursing.
  • Science, engineering, aerospace and advanced manufacturing.
  • Education, early childhood education and development.
  • Business, accounting and data analytics.
  • One additional field, designated by each college or university, that is considered high-paying, in high demand or an area of critical need.  

Award recipients must also live and work in Kansas for two years after completing their education. 

A $1 million per year spending cap on the program limits the total number of scholarships the state can give. 

The law also expands the Kansas Promise Scholarship Program, which covers remaining community college costs after other scholarships for students in high-demand fields who agree to live and work in the state for at least two years. The program will now include elementary and secondary education programs in the list of eligible degrees. 

Easing college access for military veterans

Another element of the new higher education law makes it easier for military veterans to be counted as Kansas residents for the purpose of receiving discounted college tuition. Previously, they had to be Kansas residents prior to their military service or permanently stationed in Kansas. Now, veterans who live in Kansas at the time of college enrollment and who were stationed in the state for at least 11 months are eligible for in-state tuition. 

Legislation that was successfully vetoed

The Kansas Legislature failed to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of: 

  • House Bill 2236, allowing parents to withdraw their children from classroom material they object to.
  • House Bill 2285, restricting the authority of state and local health officers and prohibiting COVID-19 vaccine requirements in schools and day cares.
  • House Bill 2304, standardizing firearm safety programs in public schools and requiring guidelines for younger grades to be based on the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program. 

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