Kansas GOP ties new school funds to ‘choice’, other policies | Kansas News

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By JOHN HANNA, AP political writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – State funds for Kansas public schools have been frozen as Republican lawmakers push for policies that critics say would punish educators for court rulings that forced the government-controlled legislature the GOP to increase spending.

A legislative proposal ties $6.4 billion in spending to policies pushed by conservative Republicans, including an ‘open enrollment’ proposal to allow parents to send their children to any public school with enough resources. ‘space. Another provision would restrict investigations into students’ families, beliefs, mental health or drug or alcohol abuse. A third would extend a state-funded college scholarship program to students outside of Kansas.

Republicans drafted the measure before lawmakers begin their annual spring recess earlier this month to settle differences between the House and Senate. When lawmakers meet again on April 25, they must decide whether to add more money for special education programs and whether to tie the dollars to policy changes.

The Conservatives say they are trying to make schools more accountable for how they spend state money. They’ve tied the money to politics since 2014, when the Kansas Supreme Court issued the first of seven rulings in an education funding lawsuit filed against the state by four school districts.

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“It’s our responsibility to make sure student outcomes improve,” said state Rep. Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta who chairs a House education spending committee. “It’s important to always couple funding with an obligation on the part of schools to give back the accountability they need.”

But Democratic lawmakers, teachers and other educators say the bill combining funding and policy imposes unnecessary new tasks that hamper teaching. Marcus Baltzell, spokesman for the state’s largest teachers’ union, sees the policy proposals as the “heavy price” Republicans want schools to pay for winning the funding lawsuit.

Kansas is expected to spend 57% more on direct aid to its public schools in the 2021-22 school year than in 2011-12, according to budget documents. With the pending measure, that figure would rise again by more than 6% for the 2022-23 school year, to $5.3 billion, including funding for educator pensions.

“If these people are really interested in fully funding public schools, they should just do it,” Baltzell said. “They shouldn’t have to attach a special interest policy to ensure children have all the resources they deserve.”

Even with the additional funds, some districts expect to have budget shortfalls because state funding is tied to student numbers, and those numbers have declined during the pandemic.

Additionally, the action before lawmakers would fall short of the goal set out in state law for funding special education programs. State Department of Education is asking Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to support an additional $155 million for special education, 30% more than the $520 million lawmakers had planned to spend for 2022- 2023.

“Because special education services are mandated by federal and state law, school districts must address this shortfall by reducing funding from their operating budgets for other necessary educational programs,” the assistant commissioner said. Education Craig Neuenswander in a letter to Kelly’s budget manager.

It is not yet clear to what extent politics will remain tied to funding. While Williams argues negotiators have reached a deal and should keep the package together, Senate Education Chair Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisbourg, suggested GOP leaders could separate some proposals from the money. .

Senators would vote on the package first, and Baumgardner said she’s heard from senators from both parties who don’t want to open the college scholarship program to people outside of Kansas, given that scholarships are capped at 10. million dollars per year.

Williams said the goal was to get people to Kansas, but Baumgardner said, “It’s a real sticking point for the Senate.”

Meanwhile, Republicans argue that it is necessary to restrict surveys in which students are asked about their personal beliefs and lives, so that surveys do not take up time on classroom lessons and parents know to advance what will be required of their children. Educators say such surveys provide valuable data and can help schools find at-risk children.

The open-ended nomination has divided Republicans enough that a version barely passed the House last month. The proposal would require districts to accept students after determining how much space they have.

Williams and other supporters argue the proposal would increase choices for parents. However, Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said that with decisions left to local authorities, most districts are accepting outside students and “that system has worked well”.

Other critics said open enrollment could cause headaches for rapidly growing school districts. And Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Democrat from Merriam, said wealthier families in urban and suburban areas would benefit the most because parents would have to provide their own transportation.

“It creates an opportunity for – for lack of a better term – white flight,” Ousley said.

Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

Copyright 2022 The Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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