2021 Legislative Talking Points

House Bill  2119

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee on Thursday passed a bill that includes both K-12 appropriations (school finance aid and Kansas State Department of Education budget) and a number of other education policy provisions in a single bill, HB 2119, which previously contained only a new provision of education savings accounts.

USA-Kansas is providing you a glimpse of the policies included in the bill, plus a few talking points.  We encourage each of you to reach out and talk about this bill with your local representatives. This bill includes the Governor's Education budget, but a host of controversial items that will negatively affect students learning opportunities across the state. This bill doesn’t take into account student equity, what’s best for all students, and the board public learning systems that already exist. 

Kansas House leadership is priming your local legislators about this bill.  They are misleading your representative that this bill will not cost additional money, is better for students, provides students educational choice, and will not negatively affect students remaining in your school. Bottom line, many of these ideas are untested, and based on conservative policies rather than educational research.  It is our job to educate our legislators on what the potential of a bill like this will do to local community schools. We need you to tell your story, we need parents to tell their story, we have to find a way to take a stand.

 

Education Savings Accounts for Private Schools 

The bill creates a new program, beginning July 1, 2022, it would allow eligible students to have all or a portion of an amount equal to the prior year’s base state aid per pupil placed in an account managed by the State Treasurer to be used for authorized education purposes. 

Eligible students would have to be currently enrolled in a public school and qualified for free or reduced meals or have been identified by the resident school district as eligible for at-risk educational services because of below grade level performance in English, language arts, or mathematics, high rate of absenteeism, or for any other reason specified by the school district. (A third qualifier in the original bill, having been in a remote or hybrid learning environment for a minimum period of time, was removed.) 

A student could enroll full-time in a non-public school and receive the full base state aid for the previous year, or could enroll part-time in a public school and receive a proportional amount (i.e. half time in a public school and receive 50 percent of base aid). 

Funds could be used to attend either an accredited private school or non accredited private school that provides specific instruction required in current law and is approved by the State Treasurer, but a qualified private school would not mean any nonaccredited private home school or homeschool organization, community, consortium, or group. 

Other allowable uses of the account include; Tuition and fees charged by qualified schools; textbooks and supplies required by qualified schools; costs for transporting students to qualified schools, if the qualified school provides transportation; educational therapies or services provided by a licensed or accredited education provider; tutoring provided by a certified tutor; curriculum materials; tuition or fees charged by an accredited private online learning program; fees for any nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, advanced placement examination, or other examination related to admission to a postsecondary educational institution; classes, services, programs, activities, classes, or any other resources or programs provided or contracted by a school district; tuition and fees charged by a postsecondary educational institution; and any other education expenses approved by the Treasurer. 

If a student leaves a public school district to attend a private school, the district will continue to receive the student’s weighting amounts for up to three years. The bill does not change the provision in current law allowing districts to use the higher of the prior or second prior year unweighted enrollment for funding in the current year, so the budget impact of losing students will not be immediate. However, over time districts will have less funding if they have fewer students due to the program.


Talking Points:

  • Public Schools are better qualified and equipped to work with students with multiple intervention needs.

  • The dollars are state general fund dollars, not tax credit scholarships.

  • This will cost additional money, it will not be a saving to the state: link State Treasurer Lynn Rogers estimates.

  • Any reduction in At-Risk (Free and Reduced) population will negatively impact a school budget.  Not all students receiving at-risk services receive at-risk weightings.

  • Vouchers are harmful for students in need of greater resources.  

  • Vouchers don’t provide an actual choice for rural students who have little, if any, access to private schools. Many private schools do not provide transportation to students.

  • Students who leave the public schools with a voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to students under the special education law.

  • Special education or students with disabilities accepting vouchers would not necessarily receive all the services they currently receive in their public school.

  • Vouchers do not provide the same accountability to taxpayers as public schools.  

  • Many voucher schools are permitted to take taxpayer money without implementing any requirements for teacher qualifications, testing, or achievement. Private schools should have the same accountability requirements as public schools.

  • Vouchers do not improve academic achievement.  

  • Poverty is the primary cause of achievement gaps, which also exists in private schools that serve poor students.

  • Vouchers are potentially a violation of Separation of Church and State.

  • Students could possibly take the voucher to a lower-achieving school.

 

Expansion of Private School Tax Credits

The bill now includes an expansion of students eligible for the current private school tax credit program, which provides state income tax credits for contributions made to organizations granting scholarships for certain students to attend qualified private schools. 

First, the bill amends the definition of “eligible student” to include students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals under the National School Lunch Program, rather than free lunch only under current law. 

Second, the bill would allow such students attending any Kansas public school to attend. Current law defining public school limits eligibility to those students enrolled or eligible to be enrolled in the lowest 100 performing elementary schools, as identified by the State Board of Education. 

The bill also adds some additional reporting requirements for participating private schools. Under current law qualified private schools must either be accredited by the State Board of Education or a national or regional accrediting agency that is recognized by the State Board for the purpose of satisfying the teaching performance assessment for professional licensure. 

This bill does not change the current $10 million cap on tax credits from the state. The program has never used all of the tax credit authority.   (The Senate has already passed an identical expansion of tax credit scholarship eligibility in SB 61.)


Talking Points:

  • If the state is providing tax credits at a higher rate than other donations this becomes a state program.

  • There is zero follow-up or accountability for students receiving these private scholarships.

  • Eligible students are any student that is free or reduced qualified.  At the current time this includes many more than before COVID. 

 

Limit on School Term Days or Hours in Remote Learning 

The bill amends state laws regarding the minimum school term of 186 days or 1,116 hours for most students. Days or hours may be counted only if each student enrolled may physically attend school in person on a full-time basis, with the following exception:

The State Board of Education may authorize a district to provide up to 40 days or 240 hours in remote learning upon application by a district for a waiver based on a disaster that will restrict the closure of the school district for an inordinate period of time. A disaster includes an emergency declared by the Governor, closure of schools by the county board of health or health officer, the secretary of health and environment, or widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life caused by any natural or manmade cause.


Talking Points:

  • Takes away local control. Requires all school districts to follow guidelines that restrict the district’s ability to adjust to unique circumstances.

  • Schools must qualify why they are out of school.

  • If a student is physically ill this could hinder their possibility of graduation.

  • Could reduce funding during the current school year. 

  • In the fall legislative leadership determined local counties, health departments, and school districts needed to have the ability to determine educational instructional learning models.  Why is the legislature changing their mind at this point in the process? 

  • Remote teaching and learning are more effective for students than many virtual learning models.  Why would the state legislature limit accessibility to effective instructional models that benefit students?  This also limits options for expanding work-based learning experiences. 

 

Funding for Students in Extended Remote Learning

The bill includes a provision that beginning in the 2021-22 school year, if a student has been in remote learning for more than 240 hours under a state or emergency disaster or 40 hours when no state of disaster has been declared, the student should be counted for funding purposes in the current year as remote student and the district receives $5,000 for the student rather than base state aid and weightings. 

This is the funding amount provided for students in virtual school programs. It means that should districts have students in remote learning for more than this period of time during a year, the budget would be adjusted, and funding reduced in the current year.


Talking Points:

  • Does not allow for unique circumstances of a school district. Could also reduce funding during the current school year. 

  • School districts have learned it's possible to expand instructional models.  Why would we want to limit access to strong programs?

 

School Finance Programs 

The bill contains appropriations for general state aid to fund the base state levels approved by the Gannon school finance plan for the current year and the next two years, a $7.5 million increase in special education state aid each year, and increases in local option budget, capital improvement and capital outlay state aid, and KPERS contributions based on November school finance estimates and recommended by the Governor. (However, the bill does not extend the sunset on the high-density weighting until 2023, as contained in the Governor’s budget recommendation.) 

Talking Points:

  • Does not extend the sunset on high-density at-risk weighting.

  • Potentially violates the Supreme Court decision on Gannon. Returns the State to court costing taxpayers.

 

Teacher Bonuses 

This bill contains a non-binding direction to the local school board to use federal COVID aid to provide a one-time, $500 bonus to classroom teachers.

Talking Points:

  • These are federal dollars designated for the Kansas Department of Education to determine the best use of the funding. State-wide elected officials are elected to determine the direction of funds designated to the Department of Education.

  • Teachers are not the only staff who have gone out of their way to make education possible this year.  Only recognizing teachers is short-sighted and another example of why the local school district should decide on how ESSER dollars are allocated.

  • Districts could use the bonus in lieu of a raise, costing employees other possible raises.  

 

School Board Allocation of Funding (HB 2067 and SB 93) 

The bill includes language previously passed by the committee in HB 2067 which amends current law that requires the board of education of each school district to assess the educational needs of each school in the district and requires the information from the needs assessment to be used when preparing the school district’s budget. The bill adds a new requirement that information obtained from the needs assessments be used to ensure improvement in student academic performance and would also require school district budgets to allocate sufficient moneys in a manner reasonably calculated to ensure all students achieve the "Rose capacities," which are codified in state law as education goals.

Talking Points:

  • Needs assessments must be used to ensure improvement in student academic performance.

  • School districts must use budgets to allocate money to ensure all students meet Rose capacities. 

  • Even with the strongest needs assessments, public schools have limitations on reallocating resources. Districts must consider facilities, staffing, staffing availability, licensure, transportation, special education, and at-risk programs.