Governor Signs Innovative Districts Bill

Governor Signs Innovative Districts Bill

On Monday, April 22, Governor Sam Brownback signed HB 2319, the Coalition of Innovative
Districts Act, which will allow up to ten percent of the state’s school
districts (currently 28) to opt out of most state laws and rules and
regulations in exchange for setting higher student achievement goals. After the
first two districts are approved by state officials, it creates a Board of Innovative
Districts to approve additional districts, up to the maximum number allowed.
Background and legislative history
The bill has become very controversial within the public education
community, as well as the Legislature. It was drafted at the request of Senate
Education Committee Chair Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City. Sen. Abrams, a former
member and chair of the Kansas State Board of Education, sought input from
education leaders, including KASB.
KASB supported the bill because it included several key aspects of
KASB’s First in Education plan. First, it requires innovative districts focus
on improving college and career readiness, measured by student completion rates
for college, technical programs and the military. Second, it gives school
boards more flexibility to pursue higher achievement by allowing them to opt
out of most state operating mandates, both laws and regulations, if they so
choose. Third, it is focused on innovation and deregulation within the public
school system, under the authority of elected local school boards, rather than
outside the system through vouchers, tax credits or charter schools not
accountable to voters or performance standards.
Testifying in support of the bill along with KASB in hearings
before the House and Senate Education Committees were the McPherson and Kansas
City school districts, which have received waivers from the Kansas State Board
of Education and U.S. Department of Education allowing them to use more
college- and career-focused tests instead of state assessments. Also supporting
it was the Kansas Policy Institute, which is often critical of public school
performance in Kansas and supports public funding for a wider range of
educational options for students, such as private schools and independent
charter schools.
However, the Kansas National Education Association strongly
opposed the bill, in part because it would allow boards of innovative districts
to operate exempt from state laws governing relations with teachers, such as
professional negotiations, tenure or due process, and licensure.
The United School Administrators of Kansas testified as neutral on
the bill, and the Kansas Parent Teachers Association was neutral before the
House committee and opposed the bill in the Senate committee. Commissioner of
Education Diane DeBacker provided informational testimony in the House
Committee. No members of the State Board testified in either committee.
Subsequently, some members of the State Board have expressed opposition to the
bill to KASB.
The House passed the final version of the bill 71-47. The Senate
passed the bill 29-11. In the House, an amendment to require innovative
districts to follow state laws on teacher negotiations, due process and
licensure, was defeated on a vote of 50-70.
Opponents of the bill, including all legislative Democrats and
many moderate Republicans, generally focused on the possible exemptions for
teacher laws, especially the ability to hire unlicensed teachers; and warned
that student outcomes would decline in such districts as a result. A Democratic
leader, Rep. Jim Ward, R-Wichita, tweeted this week “HB 2319 is not education
reform nor is it innovative, it creates no accountability school districts. Bad
policy.”
KASB advance the following points in support of the bill.
·        
Innovative
districts will continue to follow state laws and regulations until and unless
the local board of education, accountable to local voters, parents, staff and
community interests, decides otherwise.
·        
The
exemption authority provided to innovative districts will be a maximum of five
years unless renewed. If the district does not demonstrate improvement – if the
district plan doesn’t work – it will lose the exemption authority. If the district
fails to meet improvement targets for two consecutive years, the district can
lose its innovative status.
·        
If a
district decides it would be helpful to operate outside of traditional laws and
regulations to achieve higher educational outcomes, it will have to demonstrate
its decision was successful, or lose that ability at the end of the five year
authorization.
·        
If
districts are able to demonstrate success while operating without certain state
requirements, the state will be able to evaluate the desirability of continuing
such requirements and regulations.
·        
If
districts are able to demonstrate higher achievement without using exemptions,
or if districts with such exemptions fail to perform at a higher level, it will
provide evidence state requirements are not significant impediments; or are in
fact helpful in promoting student achievement.
Here are the detailed provisions of the bill from legislative
staff, with some additional comments from KASB.
Establishment of Public
Innovative Districts (Sections 3 and 5)
The act creates a process whereby a local board of education could
apply for authority to operate as a “public innovative district.” The bill
would limit the number of public innovative districts to no more than ten
percent of the state’s school districts at any time. The application and
approval requirements would differ as follows:
First two school districts.  A
request for approval will go first to the Governor and the chairpersons of the
Senate and House education committees. If a majority of these individuals
approves the request, the district may submit an application to the State Board
of Education (State Board), which will be required to review and approve the
application within 90 days, if it includes the required contents (see below).
Requirements regarding notification of both approval and denial are contained
in the bill. If an application is denied, the district will have an opportunity
to submit an amended application.
Remaining districts. The request for approval will go first
to the Coalition Board (see below), which is made up of representatives of the
approved innovative districts. The Coalition Board will have sole discretion to
approve or deny the request and may make recommendations to the requesting
school district to modify the request. Modifications could then be considered
by the Coalition Board prior to making a final decision. If the request is
approved, the district may submit the application to the State Board. The same
review and notification requirements apply.
KASB comments: The act is designed to create a process
of “peer review” for districts to operate under this authority. After the first
two districts are chosen by the Governor and committee chairs, the approved
districts are charged with evaluating the proposed programs and goals of
innovative districts. In other words, the first two districts must approve the
third, the first three must approve the fourth, etc., until all authorized
slots are filled.
Application requirements.  The
application must contain a description of the educational programs of the
public innovative district, a description of parental and community interest
and support, the specific goals and measurable pupil outcomes to be obtained,
and an explanation of how pupil performance in achieving the specified outcomes
will be measured, evaluated, and reported.
KASB comments: One of the key aspects of the act is the
district’s “completion percentage,” which is defined as “the percentage of high
school graduates of a public innovative district that have enlisted in military
service or completed a postsecondary educational certificate program or degree
program as determined by the national student clearinghouse, or other
postsecondary educational program completion database utilized by such public
innovative district.” Increasing the district completion percentage is one of
the factors in renewal of authority to operate as an innovative district.
Requirements and Exemptions
for Public Innovative Districts (Section 3)
Requirements.  In
addition to complying with its own stated goals, a public innovative district
will be required to:
·        
Participate
in all applicable Kansas math and reading assessments or an alternative
assessment determined by the local board of education;
·        
Abide
by all financial and auditing requirements applicable to school districts,
except a public innovative district would be permitted to use generally
accepted accounting principles;
·        
Comply
with all applicable health, safety and access laws; and
·        
Be
subject to the Special Education for Exceptional Children Act, the Virtual
School Act, the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act, capital
outlay requirements (KSA 72-8801 et seq.), all laws governing the issuance of
general obligation bonds by districts, laws governing public employee
retirement (KSA 74-4901 et seq.), laws governing school board elections, the
Kansas Open Records Act, and the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
A public innovative district could not charge tuition for any
pupils residing in the district’s boundaries.
Exemptions.  Unless
otherwise required by the Act or decided by the board of education of the
public innovative district, public innovative districts will be exempt from all
laws and rules and regulations applicable to school districts.
KASB comments: Te act essentially requires districts to
follow state finance laws and requirements, open meetings and records acts, and
student assessments. Otherwise, districts appear to be exempt from most other
state requirements.
Although innovative are exempt from these
laws without having to go through any other process, the local board may continue
to follow any or all of these laws if it wishes. For example, the districts
would not be required to operate for the statutory minimum school terms, but
the board could continue to do so.
Coalition of Innovative
Districts; Coalition Board (Section 4, unless otherwise noted)
The act establishes the Coalition of Innovative Districts, with
duties and functions to be carried out by a Coalition Board. The Coalition
Board will consist of one representative of each public innovative district as
designated by the board of education of the district.
Chairperson.  The
chairperson of the Coalition Board will be appointed in a unanimous decision by
the Governor and the chairpersons of the House and Senate Education Committees.
The Coalition Board chairperson serves a five-year term, with any vacancy
filled in the same method as a regular appointment.
Duties.  The
Coalition Board will carry out the duties and functions of the coalition,
including the following:
·        
The
Coalition Board will conduct the initial review of all but the first two
prospective public innovative districts, and have the sole discretion to
approve or deny a district’s request to become a public innovative district.
(If the Coalition Board approves the request, the district’s petition to become
a public innovative district may proceed to the State Board.)
·        
As
part of the initial review, the Coalition Board may make recommendations to
modify the request and may subsequently consider the modifications prior to
making a final decision. (Section 5)
·        
If a
public innovative district fails to meet any of the specified renewal criteria
(see “Performance- Related Provisions,” below), the Coalition Board may
petition the State Board to request the public innovative district’s authority
be revoked. (Section 7)
Reports.  The
Coalition Board must report annually to the Legislature regarding pupil
performance in the public innovative districts, the laws and rules and
regulations deemed problematic by the Coalition Board, and any other
information regarding success or problems experienced by the public innovative
districts during the previous year.
Meetings.  The
Coalition Board may meet as often as, and wherever, deemed appropriate, and may
form subcommittees.
Operational Time Limit;
Performance-Related Provisions; Petition for Revocation of Authority (Sections
6-8)
Authority and renewal.  A
public innovative district will be granted authority to operate as such for a
period of five school years. At least 90 days prior to expiration of this
period, a public innovative district may submit an application to renew its
authority to the State Board, and if the application is complete, the State
Board is required to approve the application within 60 days of submission, with
related notification deadlines. The renewal application must contain:
·        
Evidence
the public innovative district has met the standards on the designated math and
reading state or alternative assessments during the five-year period;
·        
Evidence
the public innovative district has shown improvement in its completion
percentage (see above) during the same period;
·        
Demonstrated
progress the public innovative district is achieving the goals and outcomes
described in its application; and
·        
A
description of compliance with the requirements of the act.
Early revocation of
authority
.  However, if a public innovative district
fails to meet any of the renewal criteria for two or more consecutive years,
either the public innovative district itself may petition the State Board for a
release from its public innovative district status, or the Coalition Board may
submit a petition to the State Board requesting the public innovative
district’s authority to operate as such be revoked.
·        
The
State Board must honor any such petition request originating from the public innovative
district itself, and release from the authority to operate under the act will
be effective for the school year immediately following the grant of the
petition.
·        
In
the case of a Coalition Board-initiated petition, the public innovative
district will be provided the opportunity to have a hearing on the matter. A
time frame for the hearing request and subsequent decision is provided. If the
petition is granted, the authority to operate as a public innovative district
will be revoked beginning with the school year immediately following the grant
of the petition.
Monthly meetings.  The
act requires the superintendents of the public innovative districts to meet at
least monthly to discuss the success or failure of educational programs.
Additional Duties of the
State Board (Sections 9 and 10)
The bill requires the State Board to provide technical advice and
assistance in preparing an application for authority to operate as a public
innovative district, upon the request of a prospective school district.
Additionally, the State Board is to adopt rules and regulations as deemed
necessary to implement the act.