Kansas education policy reform in upcoming legislative session likely to mirror

TOPEKA — The 2023 legislative session in Kansas is expected to generate familiar debates on financing of public schools and vouchers for private schools, transgender student participation in sports and creation of a parental bill of rights touching on class curriculum and library offerings.

Lobbyists with the Kansas Association of School Boards also anticipated legislation would surface to broaden vaccination exemptions for students, encourage school employees to carry firearms and address the longstanding shortfall in state aid to special education.

Leah Fliter and Scott Rothschild, who monitor legislation for KASB on behalf of the 286 school boards statewide, said the annual session would again feature Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and the Republican-dominated House and Senate. The outcome will directly influence nearly 500,000 students and more than 35,000 teachers in the state.

“Well, I think is obviously going to be challenging as it was last year,” Fliter said. “I do think, though, given the fact that the voters seem to be comfortable with a kind of a divided government — Republican Legislature, Democratic governor — it makes me wonder if there might be some opportunities for the Democrats to pull some Republicans over into some votes that might be favorable for public education.”

The House and Senate maintained two-thirds GOP majorities capable of forming a large enough coalition to overturn vetoes by Kelly, who didn’t hesitate to use her veto power during the first term. It is possible the House will be slightly more conservative, despite addition of one Democrat in the 2022 elections. The Senate didn’t alter its complexion because members won’t be on the ballot until 2024.

The Legislature could end up embracing education policy advocated by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who lost to Kelly in November, on transgender athletes, the parental bill of rights and vaccination exemptions.

“We’re hearing … they’re going to come out of the gate swinging,” Fliter said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “There’s going to be all kinds of stuff. So, I in some ways, I think they’re doubling down.”


Leah Fliter
Leah Fliter says private school vouchers would hollow out the public school system while fortunate kids “go to the land of milk and honey.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Vouchers on agenda

Fliter said advocates of private school funding would again strive to funnel public tax dollars to private schools through a system of tax credits and education savings accounts. She said KASB would urge lawmakers to avoid reforms that result in hurting public school districts by moving students to private schools not obligated to accept every student regardless of income, academic standing or disability.

“It’s basically hollowing out the public school systems so that eventually, the only kids who are left in public school are the kids who, who do poorly, who have a lot of challenges at home. And, meanwhile, the more fortunate kids are able to go to the land of milk and honey, and continue to excel,” she said.

Rothschild said a bill would again emerge — Kelly vetoed previous attempts to advance this culture-war policy — to require transgender students to participate in athletics based on gender at birth. He said KASB opposed this legislation because the Kansas State High School Activities Association and local school boards were better equipped than the 165 members of the Kansas Legislature to handle these issues.

In 2022, Kelly vetoed and the Legislature failed to override legislation outlining a dozen rights of parents with children enrolled in K-12 public schools. The package affirms parents have the authority to direct religious and moral upbringing of their children. It also required teachers to disclose classroom materials to parents in advance of use and encouraged parents to challenge library books they considered offensive.

“I think we’re gonna see another run at restricting things that are in libraries, you know, making teachers post what they’re teaching,” Fliter said.

The Legislature will consider how to deal with an inflation adjustment to state funding of K-12 education, a provision of the settlement of recent school finance litigation. The Kansas Supreme Court retained jurisdiction of the case in anticipation of the legislative branch attempting to back out of the settlement.

Under the current…

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