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From School Choice to Parental Rights, Kansas Lawmakers Are Pushing Changes in Education | CUR 89.3

WICHITA, Kansas — Dozens of education bills making their way through the Kansas Legislature this session could have a profound effect on public schools.

Conservatives want to make it easier for families to send their children to private schools — even by diverting tax dollars — and are once again pushing for more parental control over what is taught in public school classrooms.

Other proposals include a push to fully fund special education, a bill that would allow school board members to be paid, and one that would dramatically increase the time students spend in school.

Here is a look at some of the education-related measures discussed in the Statehouse:

House Bill 2218, an Education Savings Account measure, would give qualifying families about $5,000 of tax money to use for the cost of private tuition or home schooling.

Conservatives say the ESAs, which have passed in several other states, would give more families an alternative to public schools, which they say are failing some children.

Opponents, including public school superintendents, teachers’ unions and the Kansas State Board of Education, say it is an attempt to defund and undermine public schools. They say there is no evidence that voucher programs work or that students do better academically in private schools.

House Bill 2048 would expand a tax credit that allows taxpayers to cancel up to $500,000 in scholarships they provide to private schools. A similar bill, Senate Bill 128, would give taxpayers a refundable income tax credit when their children under the age of 12 are not enrolled in public schools.

Opponents say the programs could be used to divert personal or business tax liabilities from the state’s general fund to private school scholarships.

“Holy tax scams, this is a masterful card game,” said Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin, a Democrat from Overland Park, during a recent committee hearing. “Any religious dark money special interest group organization can substantially divert its group’s entire Kansas tax liability…for distribution to private schools that are not subject to the same oversight as our Kansas public schools.”

Opponents also fear that tax money will go to religious education. Poskin pointed to a case in Ohio in which a white supremacist home school shared Nazi-related lesson plans.

“If a homeschool became a dissonant homeschool in Kansas, the state would pay for neo-Nazi curriculum and materials,” Poskin said.

Conservative lawmakers continue to push for parental rights legislation. Last year, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed a proposed Parental Rights Bill that would have required school districts to develop and adopt policies that ensure parental rights.

This session, House Bill 2236, would establish the right of parents to direct their children’s education and “to object to harmful or inappropriate educational materials and activities.”

A House committee also approved a last-minute amendment to an open enrollment bill that would require districts to have an online “parent portal” listing all curricula, textbooks and other similar materials.

Opponents say the measures are vague and unnecessary because parents can already exclude their children from any lessons.

The governor wants to increase special education funding by approximately $72 million annually to bring the state’s contribution to the fully funded level required by Kansas law.

The House has so far passed a bill creating a task force to study the issue. Some lawmakers want a resolution asking the federal government to pay more. But there has been no real action on the funding.

Another bill would allow, but not require, school districts to pay board members out of their district budgets. The Kansas Association of School Boards opposes the measure, saying no board member has requested it and that many say volunteer service is important to their mission.

Other education bills include one that would allow school board candidates to list a political party affiliation on the ballot, one that would require districts to establish an independent review policy for bullying complaints, and one that would dramatically increase the time students spend at school.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KMUW, KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished free of charge by the news media with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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