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Kansas Interim Legislative Committee Calls For 'Complete Overhaul' Of School Funding

Sam Zeff

An interim joint Kansas legislative committee has issued a report short on specifics but long on suggestions that could fundamentally change how education is funded and delivered in the state.

The11-page report from the K-12 Student Success Interim Study Committee is unequivocal in calling for change in the funding system. "Information presented to this Committee makes it abundantly clear that a complete overhaul is needed, including the method for calculating funding, accountability, reporting its effectiveness and efficient use," the report says on page one.

But Democrats and moderate Republicans say the report reflects only what was presented by the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, and other conservatives.

“Well, if you were in disagreement with the direction the committee was going, your input is not included as part of the report,” says state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. “It’s biased towards those who have an ax to grind about K-12 education in Kansas.”

While the report comes from the committee, its chairman, Rep. Ron Highland, a conservative Republican from Wamego, is the author. Highland is also chairman of the Kansas House Education Committee.

The report makes no mention of the current block grant funding scheme or other hot-button education issues such as merit pay for teachers or school vouchers. But some observers say that language is disguised in the report.

For example, when the report talks about "The ability to reward individuals who are effective and truly enjoy their work," that's code for merit pay, according to Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway.

When the report suggests state money needs to go to students rather than to school districts, that's code for vouchers. “It’s full of black helicopter talk and a lot of the right-wing reform agenda couched in language that’s meant to sound very comfortable to parents,” Rooker says.

In several places the Highland reports calls for more state control of local districts. One recommendation calls for legislative oversight of state funds used for preschool. "Oversight by the legislature concerning spending guidelines on what the funds can be used for would be beneficial for both the legislature and the districts going forward," the report says.

Credit Kansas Legislature
State Rep. Stephanie Clayton is a moderate Republican from Overland park.

The report also suggests repealing state aid for local bond issues and hiring a state architect to be involved in district building projects. That didn't sit well with local legislators.

"I don't want any state employee to tell us how to build a building in the Shawnee Mission School District," says Republican Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park.

Clayton was particularly upset with the section of the report that discusses funding for at-risk students. Highland says it may be cost-efficient to move at-risk students out of mainstream classes.

"Mainstreaming has some benefit, but the good of the individual must outweigh any benefit realized by this practice, and the impact on other students in the mainstreamed classroom must also be taken into account," the report states.

"Essentially our special needs students who need the most help are being attacked,"  Clayton says. "This is appalling."

Highland says the current state assessment test, developed and used for the first time last year, might need to be replaced. He suggests using a third-party test, such as the ACT.

He also says the state should study whether all the paperwork and reporting associated with federal education funds is actually worth the money.

The committee meets at 9 am Tuesday in the statehouse. Democrats and moderate Republicans are expected to try and amend the report, a difficult task given the committee is dominated by conservatives.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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