Late-night funding fight
A proposal to provide more money for Kansas public schools now has been passed, having been adopted by the House late Sunday evening with 63 affirmative votes, the minimum number needed for passage. I voted no, for reasons I will explain. It earlier had been voted out of the Senate with 22 yes votes, one more than required.
The measure, Senate Substitute for House Bill 2506, provides roughly $129 million in funding to meet the “equity” requirement of the recent Supreme Court school funding decision. I believe this will satisfy the court; however, I must admit to being somewhat apprehensive about their response. One of the “pay-fors” for the new funding was the elimination of funding for one form of at-risk weighting. An argument could be made that eliminating the weighting will disadvantage the students and school districts the weighting was designed to help, thereby creating a new source of inequity.
Additionally, the bill provides flexibility for all school districts to increase their local option budget, if they wish. The problem is an LOB increase means property taxes must go up. That means some wealthy districts will jump at the chance to increase their LOB, while some poorer districts might believe they simply can’t afford the additional property tax load — and will not increase the LOB. Does this also create an issue of inequity? There is certainly room for discussion on that point.
Even with those two potential problems, I solidly was in favor of passing the funding portion of the bill. However, it also contained some policy proposals I view as problematic. And my stand against them is amplified because of the questionable process in which they were included in the bill. These are controversial policy pieces, and they were stuck in the bill without having gone through the committee hearing process. That means the Legislature was being asked to pass the measures without complete understanding of the pros and cons of the proposals. They were inserted as pet projects of certain legislators into a funding bill everyone agreed had to be adopted. That was done because those legislators, and everyone else, knew they could not pass as stand-alone legislation. That, in my opinion, is poor public policy, and I stand against it.
Here is a brief description of the policy items and my views on them:
Due process for teachers
Kansas statute provides due process for teachers once they have completed a three-year probationary period. Even though Kansas is an employment-at-will state, the due-process statute lays out a hearing and appeals process for non-probationary teachers who have had their employment terminated. Sub for HB 2506 would remove that due-process protection for K-12 teachers. While I have some problems with the current statute, I would have favored a full examination of the issue rather than a total elimination of due process.
It is unclear whether this eliminates due process for current teachers or whether it only applies to newly-hired teachers. Also, some districts, including Shawnee Mission, include due-process provisions in their teacher contracts. Are these invalidated now, or do they still stand? If so, we might see pressure on school districts throughout the state to adopt due process in their contracts. That would entail a great deal of time, trouble and expense on the part of school boards. One has to wonder if that isn’t the reason a statewide statutory due process for teachers first was adopted in 1957.
Sub for HB 2506 provides a mechanism whereby individuals who have not completed traditional teacher career-path training can become certified to teach in Kansas schools. I approve of efforts to provide alternative certification, as rural Kansas schools often find it difficult to locate and hire teachers in certain fields — most often science and math. However, I believe it was unnecessary to include the provision in the bill, as the state board of education understands the need and has been working on alternative certification for quite some time. Enacting this provision in statute actually could be a usurpation of that board’s constitutional duties.
Scholarships for private schools
This is an issue I frankly never can agree to. I understand part of the objective is to encourage additional competition in education, and I support that concept as we search for ways to provide the best possible education at the least possible cost. But it simply is not equitable to provide public funding for private education via institutions that do not have to follow the same regulations and guidelines as public schools. I firmly believe public funds must be dedicated exclusively to public education. It seems the folks who wrote the Kansas constitution agree with that point of view. Article 6 of the constitution contains this sentence: “No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds.”
The Legislature now is on spring break until April 30, when we will return to Topeka for the wrap-up session. If things go smoothly, we could reach final adjournment by May 9. If we hit any snags, I expect a May 16 finish.
Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, represents the 118th District.