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Kansas public and private Catholic high schools debate sports modifier


Kansas lawmakers are weighing a proposed three-word change to state law that would be seismic change for high school sports.

Student athletes, except the largest public schools, would be beneficiaries of the move, which would allow the Kansas State High School Activities Association to implement an enrollment modifier for private schools.

Bill Faflick, executive director of KSHSAA, said the intent is to create a “level playing field” so all teams “feel they have a fair opportunity” to win championships.

But the change would require the Republican-controlled legislature to go against private schools at a time when GOP politics in Kansas has become more pro-choice. Private schools, especially parochial ones, across the state oppose the move.

The proposal is “unnecessary, punitive and counterproductive,” said Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita and president of the Association of Independent and Religious Schools of Kansas.

The plan already has KSHSAA approval and narrowly passed the Kansas Board of Education, but needs the Kansas legislature to act before it can be implemented.

“Making things right is a very difficult and challenging business,” said Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Basehor, who sponsored the legislation. “But the association has come to the conclusion that what is taking place right now is not necessarily right for everyone.”

Moreover:After close state board vote, KSHSAA private school multiplier is now in the hands of the Kansas Legislature

The bill, HB 2003, is short, adding three words — “and other factors” — for how high school athletics are divided into classes. Currently, student enrollment count is the only factor that can be used in the grading system.

The “other factors” have been identified but would not be written into the law.

The multiplier formula would use three factors: recent success in state championships, the geographic location of schools in the most populous areas, and a socioeconomic factor related to the number of low-income students. If a school does not reach the “hit factor” threshold, none of the multipliers would be triggered.

The modifier would have the potential to apply to 28 private schools, including Hayden High School in Topeka and Cair Paravel Latin School. The state business association has 335 high schools and 404 middle schools.

A law hearing Thursday in the House Education Committee showed lawmakers remain divided, regarding schools. Rep. Adam Thomas, R-Olathe and committee chair, said it hasn’t been decided when — or if — the committee will act on the bill.

Proponents say the modifier is fairer for public schools

“Our members have believed in recent years that there is a competitive imbalance that rewards some schools,” Faflick said.

Jeff Hines, principal at Paola High School, said he supports private schools, as evidenced by sending his three daughters to Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School in Paola.

“I believe in a faith-based education, but I can separate my core belief system from the competitive system that KSHSAA has,” Hines said.

He said the decision was based on the data.

Moreover:KSHSAA recommends the use of the multiplier formula for ranking private schools

“The most important consideration we’ve heard from private member schools is: Don’t punish everyone,” Hines said. “So our multiplication system is specifically aimed at schools that need to be changed while leaving others alone.”

Of the schools that voted on the plan, more than 80 percent supported the ranking change, which moved into the four smallest rankings. In 5A, the grade was even. It failed at 6A, where some of the best Catholic schools would be transferred to.

Chris Strathman, women’s basketball coach at McPherson High, says 6A schools oppose the multiplier because they don’t even want to play the best private schools.

“There are currently no private schools in the 6A grade, and they absolutely love it that way,” Strathman said. “That’s also, to me, one of the strongest justifications why this proposal needs to pass. If the bigger schools in Kansas don’t want private schools in their classifications, doesn’t that say a lot for the rest of us?”

Strathman said school administrators, coaches, parents and athletes “have been expected to deal with this for far too long.”

Rod Stallbaumer, head football coach at Basehor-Linwood High, said student enrollment alone puts public schools at a disadvantage.

“Anytime you compare enrollment between a public school and a private school, it’s an apples and oranges comparison,” he said, based on legal obligations for public schools.

Private schools want the modifier to apply to public schools as well

Testimony included a public school administrator who supported the private school’s position.

Michael Church, athletic director of Wichita Heights High School, said the proposal “unnecessarily punishes private school student athletes.”

“The families of these students are tax-paying citizens just like those in public schools,” Church said. “The families of these students work just as hard as parents in public schools to provide their children with the best possible education and student athlete experience.”

He urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, arguing that the multiplier “waters down the competitive sphere of interscholastic athletics.”

“I come from a background that says if you want to move up or win anything, work harder than all of your competitors,” he said. “However, sometimes you don’t always win. That was very indicative of how life works.”

Wichita Collegiate School principal Gaby White said the school’s “very successful” tennis team would level up all other athletic programs.

“They will be punished simply because of the school they go to,” White said. “I believe we live in a country where we do nothing but celebrate success, but this proposal as it stands would affirm that there is a negative consequence to success.”

Geoff Andrews, superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Salina, said Sacred Heart would find itself in a similar situation where the men’s golf and women’s tennis leagues would bring their already struggling soccer team into even tougher competition.

“It’s not a private versus public issue,” said Finkeldei, of the Kansas Association of Independent and Religious Schools. “I would say it’s socioeconomic. It’s an urban versus suburban issue.”

He said suburban areas tend to have more athletes also competing in club sports, which is fueling the school’s athletic success.

“If this success factor were for every school, we wouldn’t necessarily be here today,” Finkeldei said of opposing the KSHSAA plan. “But that’s only for private schools, and we believe that’s really a misdiagnosis of the problem.”

Opponents also argue that the modifier would take opportunities away from students at larger inner-city schools to the benefit of suburban and small-town schools.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, suggested using an academic multiplier instead, based on grade point average. He argued that it could be the lawmaker’s “perfect route” toward better college and career readiness. Faflick said he was unaware of any such model, and Donohoe said, “Kansas can be first. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Clarke Sanders Rep. R-Salina suggested that allowing schools to voluntarily move up grades would solve the problem.

Finkeldei said that if the current bill fails, allowing such moves could be a solution. While she “can’t guarantee it will happen,” she said she expects one to three schools could do it.

Rep. Kirk Haskins, D-Topeka asked Finkeldei if the current system is right.

“That’s right,” replied Finkeldei.

“But 80% of the schools said no, we would support the multiplier, so there would be a tendency for it not to be right,” Haskins said. “How would you change that, to protect your students in your school, what would you add?”

“If you were to change the system, you would include all schools that show an element of success,” Finkeldei said. “As has been pointed out, there are a number of public schools that are as successful or even greater than some of the private schools. So why look only at private schools?”

“So, if they took away the word ‘private’, would the multipliers be right?” asked Haskins.

“That would be right,” said Finkeldei.

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