A potential law would allow virtual and home-schooled students to join public school athletic teams and activities in Kansas.
But opponents of the bill, including the state’s high school athletics governing body, say the measure would undermine the academic component of participation in school activities and competitions.
Lawmakers on the House Committee on K-12 Budget on Tuesday held a hearing on HB 2030, which would allow non-public school students and part-time public school students to participate in any activity regulated by Kansas State High School Activities Association.
In the context of the bill, “non-public schooling” would refer to students enrolled in any publicly funded alternative to traditional education, such as homeschooling, virtual schools, and unaccredited private schools.
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Although a separate bill passed last year allows families to enroll their children in any Kansas school district regardless of residence but subject to space restrictions, all non-public school students affected by this year they should live within the district boundaries to play games or participate in any school activities.
Local school districts and the KSHSAA would be prohibited from creating any policies that prevent such participation, although schools may still require students to pay any activity fees or enroll in specific classes that would otherwise also be required of public school participants.
The measure returns to the commission after failed attempts in previous years to pass legislation to open public school sports teams and businesses to non-public students.
While 25 states allow homeschooled students access to intercurricular activities — five of which require local district approval — Kansas is one of a separate group of 20 states that allow no participation at all, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
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Proponents say Kansas’ current high school sports policy discriminates against private school taxpayers
John Eck, a parent of a Kansas high schooler, told the committee that over the past semester, he and his wife had decided to switch their daughter to part-time-only enrollment in the high school, in part out of a desire to keep her with him. higher academic, behavioral, and ethical standards than they had seen in their daughter’s high school.
But due to her daughter’s public school enrollment part-time, she was not allowed to play for either public school teams, as members of KSHSAA, or unaffiliated homeschool leagues, which exclude students who they are also partially enrolled in public schools.
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“The current law allows part-time students, but these students are denied the right that kindergarten students and public school students are granted,” Eck said. “This seems discriminatory to me. HB 2030 rightfully opens up these sports leagues and brings determination back with the contributing parents, where it belongs.
Philip Hoppe, a Colby pastor who homeschools seven children along with his wife, told the committee via a virtual call that he had previously lived in Minnesota, a state that allows homeschooled students to participate in interschool activities.
“I know it can be done and it can be done with relative ease,” Hoppe said.
Especially in northwest Kansas, it can be hard to find activities for older children, Hoppe said. Most communities do not have recreational leagues at the level of many larger communities in eastern Kansas, and most children and adolescents participate in schools through their schools.
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He pointed to Weskan High School, a school near the Colorado border that has moved away from full KSHSAA membership in recent years as part of what Hoppe said was an effort to be able to include homeschooling students. Weskan High is now what KSHSAA considers an “approved school,” meaning it is not a member of the organization but is allowed to compete with KSHSAA schools in non-league events.
“This is a good bill for society and our communities because I don’t think we want those who don’t participate in public education and those who have to stray too far from each other,” Hoppe said.
Opponents say HB 2030 undermines foundation of high academic standards of Kansas public schools
Bill Faflick, executive director of KSHSAA, said the organization and its 759 member schools oppose the bill because it undermines the organization’s goal of promoting activity participation and academics simultaneously.
Currently, students must meet six eligibility criteria – scholarship and academics, enrollment, age, semesters attended, citizenship, and transfer status – in order to participate in KSHSAA activities. Particularly with academics, students must be enrolled in and pass at least five grades to be eligible.
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“The goal of eligibility standards is actually twofold,” said Faflick. “The first is providing accountability to students at the grassroots level, which promotes student achievement by fostering positive behaviors and helping students academically and through the development of social-emotional skills and positive school and community culture.
“The second is to help support a level playing field, where students coming on the same team and against opposing teams are held to the same minimum standards,” he continued.
Participation in athletics and activity, Faflick said, are some of the best motivators for students, especially those deemed at risk of not graduating, to study and do well in school.
The bill would undermine that, therefore, because KSHSAA could exercise little or no oversight over the academic standards and minimum requirements of non-public schools, he said. Nothing would prevent a public school student who is failing classes from dropping out but continuing to participate in activities, under the bill’s provisions.
“We don’t want that for any student,” Faflick said. “We want kids to be well rounded and we want kids to be prepared as a result of their opportunity in school to be taught and to be taught by sponsors who want the same thing.”
Others, such as Deena Horst on behalf of the Kansas State Board of Education, have argued that HB 2030 would damage the sense of community fostered around high school sports.
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“Having parents and grandparents who are taxpayers is not the same as being part of the student body that you participate in all day with others participating in your community and your business,” said Horst, state board member for Salina’s instruction.
The bill, as written, also does not currently address the issue of competitive teams holding tryouts, as well as what would happen if a non-public school student failed to pass a tryout.
Kansas HB 2030 discussion turns to public school criticism
Republican committee members were highly skeptical of claims that the bill would undermine high school academics, especially when many Kansas students score in the bottom two out of four grades in annual state evaluations and among scores in drop in national ratings.
In contrast, homeschooled students do not take state assessments and it is difficult to assess their academic performance as a whole group given the decentralized approach to education of homeschooling families.
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Rep. Susan Estes, R-Wichita, said she fears KSHSAA’s current policies are too broad and have little leeway for students who aren’t trying to cheat the system.
“We may be so careful about bad actors that we have the unintended consequence of punishing students who are (doing the right thing),” Estes said.
Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican who chairs the committee, said she was appalled that some Kansas children are barred from attending KSHSAA events, “because all children have parents who rent or pay taxes.”
“For us to talk about diversity and inclusion and the needs of a variety of children, that, to me, hits the opposite of that,” Williams said. “But that’s just me giving an opinion.”
The commission is expected to work on the bill in the coming weeks for possible passage to the plenary assembly.
Rafael Garcia is an educational reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.