By Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector
— Republican legislators reached a compromise Wednesday on a mega education bill to fully fund schools, allow open enrollment across districts and enact more than a dozen other policy provisions.
The bill, which the full House and Senate may debate as early as Thursday, would provide full funding under the Gannon school finance settlement. However, the K-12 education conference committee chose to ignore a proposed $30 million allocation for special education sought by Gov. Laura Kelly.
Special education advocates say the state needs to increase special education funding by $155 million for the state to reach the mandated 92% of “excess costs.” But GOP legislators on the committee argued the state was on track to meet the requirement and should not allocate more money without knowing in detail what the funds would do to help Kansas students.
Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, touted the efforts of both chambers to find a compromise in
House Bill 2567
. Baumgardner criticized school districts, Gov. Kelly, and plaintiff school districts in the Gannon lawsuit for trying to solve problems by throwing money at the issue.
“We’re going to target that money because we expect to get results,” Baumgardner said. “We know that there will be data, and I look forward to hearing the results of these new and innovative changes for our kids in Kansas.”
Kelly initially proposed a $7.5 million increase for special education but then increased her request.
Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat, took issue with the accusations that plaintiff school districts were more concerned about money than student performance.
“I found that disturbing unless you have evidence that the school districts who sued didn’t have those students in mind,” Winn said. “That’s one thing, but to make a statement like you did that is a little sweeping and at the end of the day, we’re all about student achievement.”
The bill also includes an open enrollment provision that would allow students to transfer to any district with capacity beginning in the 2024-25 school year. School boards and many other education advocacy groups opposed this provision during committee hearings, instead urging legislators to continue allowing local school boards to make decisions based on local factors.
In addition, the delegations agreed to include an option for school districts to use an online program funded by federal and state money. Previously, the program would have been a requirement and districts would need to pay out of pocket.
The legislation allocates $43 million more in state dollars for the statewide school mill levy to offset an expanded property tax exemption recently approved by the Legislature.
Earlier Wednesday, the Legislature gave final approval to House Bill 2466, which is intended to provide computer science courses in all high schools. The committee allocated grant funding for the program.
Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican and former school principal, said she was taking a leap of faith even agreeing to allocate the funds prescribed in the bill.
“I have a big problem with giving school districts any more money,” Erickson said. “I hope I don’t regret that, and rest assured I will be going through this with a fine tooth comb every step of the way.”