New voucher bill set for hearing; school budget law change also introduced

HB 2552, co-sponsored by Reps. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, and Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, and referred to the K-12 Education Budget Committee, creates the Kansas reading readiness act. 

The intent of the bill appears to be that any public school student who scores at the lowest level on the state English Language Arts assessment in third or fourth grade would be given two options. 

First, the student could receive an amount of funding equal to base state aid to cover the cost of attending an accredited private school. 

Second, an amount equal to at-risk weighting (0.484 multiplied by base state aid) could be set aside in an account from which the school district must provide those evidence based practices and programs requested by the parent of such eligible student to the extent the cost of such practices or programs is covered by moneys transferred to such student’s account. 

In the second case, the district could “recommend evidence based practices and programs to improve such eligible student’s reading skills, but shall obtain the parent’s approval for such practices or programs prior to the expenditure of any moneys held in such student’s account for such practices or programs. 

In both cases, these amounts would be removed from school district foundation state aid and set aside in accounts administered by the state treasurer, with up to 5 percent of funds in the first two year and up to 2.5 percent of funds in future years subtracted for administrative costs. The accounts would be useeither for private school costs or evidencebased programs or practice in the school district. 

It appears once students are determined to be eligible based on third or fourth grade assessments, they would continue to be eligible until they graduate from high school.  

The bill has been scheduled for a hearing next Thursday, Feb. 13. 

SB 353, introduced by and referred to the Senate Committee on Education, makes two changes to the school district budget law. 

First, current law requires school boards to annually conduct an assessment of the educational needs of each attendance center in the district, which is to be used by the board when preparing the budget of the school district. The bill adds a requirement that the needs-assessment shall be used by the board in preparing the budget “to ensure improvement in student academic performance.” 

Second, the bill directs districts to “allocate sufficient moneys in a manner reasonably calculated such that all students may achieve the goal set forth in K.S.A. 72-3218(c).”  

That goal is provide “ each and every child with at least the following capacities: (1) Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization; (2) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices; (3) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation; (4) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness; (5) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage; (6) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and (7) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market. 

These capacities have been identified by the Kansas Supreme Court as the standards for measuring the adequacy of the school finance system. They are sometimes called the “Rose” capacities after a Kentucky Supreme Court decision in which they were first defined. The Kansas court adopted them during the nearly decade long Gannon litigation. 

The bill does not contain any enforcement mechanism or penalty, so it is unclear exactly what impact the bill would have, but presumably it could be used to argue lack of progress on achieving the Rose capacities would be a failure of districts to appropriately allocate funding, rather than adequate amounts of funding. 


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