Among the dozens of Kansas education bills introduced in 2023 are proposals to change the way public schools are funded or make it easier for families to send their children to private school.
Kansas lawmakers are also rolling out yet again the idea of adding a back-to-school tax exemption, similar to those held by some neighboring states, and giving parents greater access to information from schools.
Some of the proposals reported by The Beacon in a roundup of higher education bills also apply to K-12 education. These include requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God we trust,” making it easier to circumvent vaccine requirements and preventing transgender women from playing on women’s sports teams.
To become law, a proposal would need to pass both houses and the governor, unless the Republican legislature has the necessary votes to override the Democratic governor’s veto.
Typically, committee-sponsored bills are more likely to get a hearing and go through the legislature. Most proposed bills do not receive a hearing, and being referred to a committee does not guarantee a hearing. Some K-12 regulations currently under consideration include:
Kansas’ school funding system has been shaped by decades of legal battles. Several months ago, state associations of superintendents and school boards told The Beacon that they are largely satisfied with the way funding is currently distributed.
Some laws filed this year would change the way it works, while other laws would keep the 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 portion 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 has requested that the bill be introduced on behalf of public schools in Kansas City, Kan. and Wichita. The weighting for schools with a high density of at-risk students will expire in mid-2024.
Miller also applied for the similar House Bill 2223 on behalf of the Schools for Fair Funding group. It is sponsored by the House Education Committee.
House Bill 2040, sponsored by the education committee and requested by Rep. Adam Thomas, a Republican from Olathe, would allow schools to use their current enrollment to calculate funding. As is currently the case, schools would also have the option of using one of the previous two years.
A tax memo for the proposal estimates that with the policy in effect 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 special education funding task force.
Governor Laura Kelly recently unveiled a plan to increase special education funding in Kansas to mandatory levels.
Support for families outside public schools
Like in Missouri, there is a push in Kansas to make it easier for students to leave their traditional local public school district.
Kansas recently allowed students to transfer to public school districts where they don’t reside, prompting some concerns about overcrowding and unpredictable enrollment.
This year, the House Committee on K-12 Budget, at Thomas’s request, is sponsoring House Bill 2048. The proposal would make donations to a private school scholarship program eligible for an AUD credit. 100% tax, instead of the 70% that exists today. It would also make more families eligible, including some with higher incomes.
The proposal received a hearing on January 25. Blue Valley Schools filed written testimony against it, stating, in part, that “Private schools receiving public funds, even from diminished state revenues, 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 provide a refundable tax credit to families who 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 awards to every public school student.
The Assessment and Taxation Committee held a hearing on the bill on February 9.
House Bill 2218 would also direct BASE aid dollars to families who do not send their children to public schools. But instead of running 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 K-12 Budget Committee and received a hearing on Feb. 6.
House Bill 2030 would ensure that students who are not in public schools do not miss out on extracurricular activities. The K-12 Education Committee sponsored the bill and held a hearing on it on Jan. 24.
It would allow non-public school students to participate in any public school activity 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 activities.
Back to school tax exemption
Again, some Kansas senators are pushing for the state to adopt a back-to-school tax exemption.
Last year, some senators argued that a sales tax exemption could help families save money on state taxes, preventing Kansas from losing business to neighboring states, such as Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, which have already a tax exemption.
Senate Bill 21, Senate Bill 29, and Senate Bill 55 each propose a window in the first weekend of 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 Consideration and Taxation and received a hearing on Jan. 19. Senate Bill 29 received a committee hearing the same day. It is 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 called for it to be introduced.
Parental rights are another topic from last year that is making a comeback.
House Bill 2236 would ensure that parents can bar their children from education or activities they deem harmful or contrary to their beliefs. It is sponsored by the education committee and had a hearing on Feb. 8. Thomas asked for it to be introduced.
Thomas also requested House Bill 2248, also sponsored by the education committee. The proposal would grant parents access to their children’s educational and health records and the ability to inspect any educational materials to which their children are exposed, including curriculums, books, handouts and surveys.
House Bill 2261 would allow school districts to pay school board members. The legislation was requested by Republican Representative Rebecca Schmoe of Ottawa and is sponsored by the Committee on K-12 Education Budget.
Senate Bill 66, sponsored by the Education Committee at the request of Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat, would include the state in an interstate agreement to recognize teacher licenses in multiple states.
The purpose of the deal 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.
Senate Bill 116, sponsored by the state and federal affairs committee, would allow schools to offer firearm safety training beginning in kindergarten and would require the state board of education to set guidelines.
The curriculum for grades K-8 could be based on the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program offered by the National Rifle Association. The curriculum for grades 6-12 may be based on the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ Hunter Education in Our Schools course.
Republican Senator Chase Blasi of Wichita has called for the legislation. A hearing was held on February 8.
House Bill 2224, sponsored by the education committee, would increase the minimum number of school days each school district would provide.
Currently, the minimum is 186 school days for most grades and 181 for high school seniors. There is also an option to count hours instead of days.
The legislation would eliminate the possibility of counting the hours. It would require a minimum of 195 school days lasting at least eight hours or 156 school days lasting at least 10 hours.
It was requested by Republican Representative Bill Rhiley of Wellington.
– Miranda Moore contributed to this report.