Last year, the Kansas State High School Athletics Association – which governs all high school sports in Kansas – adopted new rules intended to level competition between public and private schools in the state.
Earlier this month, the Kansas state House of Representatives education committee heard testimony about a bill — HB 2003 — that would make such rules official in the 2023-24 school year.
The bill would amend section 1, paragraph 5 of KSA 72-114 to read “To establish a system for ranking member high schools by student attendance and other factors.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Proponents say the changes are needed to correct an imbalance between public and private schools in athletic competition.
As the Sentinel reported in May of 2022, in the 2020-2021 school year, private schools in Kansas – while making up less than 8% of all high schools – won 36% of all state championships in which they were eligible to compete, and a review of state championship history shows a distinctly private flavor among leaders in Classes 2A-5A.
As a result, KSHSAA has adopted a proposal that would move a handful of private schools to a higher ranking through the use of a “multiplier” towards the school’s enrollment.
The proposal of the KSHSAA sports competition
The proposal is in three stages; however the second and third phases do not activate if the first is not reached.
- Championships Won: If a school has won 10 championships in any sport in a 5 year period, a multiplier of 0.3 is added
- Location: If a smaller school is within a 5A or 6A district, another .3 is added. If it is in a 3A or 4A district, add 0.15. The goal is to dissuade private schools from recruiting public school athletes.
- Socio-economic: If a private school has less than 20% of its student body receiving free or reduced-price lunches, another 0.15 is added to its total population as this means a more prosperous school with greater resources to support its athletic activity and school programs.
Backer of the bill, Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican from Johnson County, said the bill is not about any particular rule, but rather designed to codify what KSHSAA has been under “extensive scrutiny” for.
Johnson, who is both a teacher and coach, said KSHSAA has been studying a number of plans to correct what had been seen as a competitive imbalance, and noted KSHSAA’s board of directors, a majority of KSHSAA’s 355 member schools and the state Board of Education had everyone voted in favor of the proposed rule changes that the bill would have made possible.
“Making things right is a very difficult and challenging business,” Johnson said. “But the association has come to the conclusion that what is taking place right now is not necessarily right for everyone.”
KSHSAA Executive Director Bill Faflick noted that the rule changes would have an effect on regular season games or championship assignments, but would only apply to postseason games such as the regional, sub-state and state championships.
Rod Stallbaumer, Basehor-Linwood’s head soccer coach, also spoke out in favor of the bill.
“I’ve been teaching and coaching at Basehor-Linwood for nine years and we have a unique perspective on our school where we often end up playing private schools in the playoffs,” he said. “In seven of the nine years I was there, our season ended in the playoffs against a private school.”
Stallbaumer argued that because public schools are required to educate every student living in his district – which includes special education services that private schools can, but are not required to offer, as well as low-income students – the data on enrollments are not necessarily a fair comparison between schools
He also noted that the cost of private school “often drives away students who wouldn’t participate in athletics anyway.”
Stallbaumer said he studied which public schools were succeeding versus private schools, particularly in the Kansas City area.
What he found was that only Class 6A Blue Valley and 5A Mill Valley had been truly successful. Blue Valley had won 61% of their games against private schools over the past nine years. Mill Valley, which has won six of the last eight 5A state titles, has a 54% winning percentage against private schools, but went 0 for 4 against Class 4A Bishop Miege.
Another backer noted that Class 6A schools voted overwhelmingly against the proposal – he said because there are currently no private schools competing at the top classification level.
Opponents say this is simply unfair to private schools, in part because it specifically targets private schools and doesn’t apply the same multipliers to public schools.
Jamie Finkeldei, president of the Association of Independent and Religious Schools of Kansas, said the proposal — rather than teaching student athletes life skills and character development — “This proposal tells all Kansas children that it is more more important to win state championships than it is to participate in. This is exactly the opposite message that KSHSAA is trying to send.
Furthermore, Finkeldei said, the proposal looks only at the private as opposed to the public.
“(The proposal) punishes private schools that have won five or more state championships in the past five years,” Finkeldei said. “There are 28 private schools in the state. Between 2015 and 2021 they have won 25% of all state championships. However, there are 23 public schools that meet the criteria to win five state titles in the past 5 years. Between 2015 and 2021, those 23 public schools won 28% of all state championships.
“Why aren’t those 23 public schools subject to the same multiplier? Secondly, what do all these successful schools have in common?” she continued. “If five state championships in the last five years is too many, then there is no right or fair reason why KSHSAA shouldn’t apply the modifier to all schools. The common denominator among almost all of these successful schools is that they are almost all suburban schools with low numbers of free and reduced lunches.
Finkeldei also noted that “if what the proponents of this proposal are suggesting is true, that higher rankings lead to tougher competition, the real losers in this proposal are the low-income kids of Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City who will have to Facing Tougher Competition 6A is primarily made up of inner-city schools from these three cities, and this proposal will primarily push private 5A schools up to 6A.
“Characterizing this issue solely as a private or public school issue is flagrantly unfair.”
Recruitment allegations bite both ways
The Bill Johnson supporter was quoted in August last year advocating for the active recruitment of student-athletes by offering scholarships to attend the school.
“I have no problem with a parochial school recruiting within its diocese or members of their faith,” Johnson told Kansas City’s Fox4. “They should, but most of these Division I star athletes that are going, religion has nothing to do with it. This is a principle in private school ideas.
However, proof of active recruiting, illegal in Kansas, has never been offered.
Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School principal Chris Bloomer told the committee that the Wichita Diocese’s only active recruitment is in the preschool.
“At Kapaun Mt. Carmel, and indeed, at all four high schools in the Diocese of Wichita, we operate a stewardship program that supports our students in attending our schools,” Bloomer said. “Ninety-nine percent of our students graduate from one of our many secondary schools, 99% of them are Catholic, and 99% of them have been with us throughout their educational careers. The only recruitment that takes place actively is that of families who are entering kindergarten”.
However, he admits that recruitment and transfers are a cause for concern.
“I’m not here to say that recruiting and transfers aren’t a problem,” Bloomer said. “In fact, I agree that they are. However, it is a much wider problem than the public one than the private one”.
Bloomer and other opponents noted that Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed into law an open enrollment bill in May last year that allows, beginning in June 2024, all districts to accept any student who has the means and means of transport to participate.
“I think we can all agree that some transfer rule changes need to be made, and private schools want to be part of the overall solution,” Bloomer said. “If recent changes in NCAA transfer rules are showing us anything, it’s that young people today want and expect to be able to switch schools as often as they want for any reason they want.
“This is not high school sport. Open enrollment, inter-district transfers, what constitutes a bona fide move, blatant recruiting tactics, and parents claiming that sport is a legitimate reason to transfer are all issues that need to be addressed. But changing the grading system and adding an achievement modifier only to private schools isn’t just punishing private schools for these problems, it ignores that these are problems in public schools as well.