A draft report presented Tuesday proposed big changes to the Kansas public school system and featured conservative themes, from privatizing some school services to decrying the regulatory burden of accepting federal education funds.
Lawmakers on a special schools committee asked for a rewrite of the draft, so it’s temporarily tabled. But legislators critical of the report called it a “narrow and slanted” version of the testimony they had heard and an “attack” on public education.
The Special Committee on K-12 Student Success, a 15-member committee of House and Senate members, was charged with making recommendations on school finance and on ways to improve student performance. It is dominated by conservative Republicans.
The report called for an overhaul of the state funding system for schools but didn’t advocate a specific financing scheme.
Recommendations included using regional centers as a way to save money on school district services such as food, transportation and maintenance, as well as the possibility of outsourcing such functions to private companies.
The report said the burden of federal education funding was a “cost driver,” requiring testing and record keeping. The report recommended state oversight of local school bond proposals. And it questioned the value of the state’s annual standardized tests, recommending that the state should consider paying for all students to take the ACT college exam.
Lawmakers agreed Tuesday to have the legislative research staff rewrite the report. It will be considered at the committee’s next meeting, which wasn’t scheduled.
Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, proposed the rewrite. He didn’t voice objections to the report but said the text should be more closely tied to testimony from the committee’s hearings.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat, was critical of the draft.
“I think the report is a pretty narrow and slanted version,” Trimmer said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and committee member, had objections to several of the recommendations in the 11-page report, but he said the glaring problem was that it didn’t recommend a new financing formula for schools.
“We have obviously fallen short of that charge,” he said.
Hensley said much of the draft report seemed to closely resemble material and testimony from the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.
Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and committee chairman, said he was the author of the draft report. He said he understood committee members’ desire to have it redrafted.
“It’s all part of the process,” he said.
Highland said the committee was not required to come up with a new financing formula but was charged with making recommendations that would fit into a new formula.
House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said in a statement that the report amounted to an attack on public education with its claims that schools aren’t efficiently using taxpayer dollars.
“Considering the outcomes we are experiencing within the foster care program and KanCare, privatization is not the answer,” Burroughs said.
The report said that its call for sweeping change should not be misconstrued as an indictment of school districts or the education system.
“Educators and legislators alike have no doubt acted with the best of intentions, but the old funding system simply hasn’t produced the necessary and desired results,” the report said.
David Smith, spokesman for the Kansas City, Kan., school district, said recommendations in the draft report don’t address the real problem.
“For us, the issues aren’t the matters discussed in the report but rather the Legislature’s willingness and ability to fully fund education,” Smith said.
The state’s current block grant funding plan for schools, which replaced a per-pupil spending formula, has come under fire from many school district officials as inadequate and inequitable.
Block grants were put in place until the state could draw up a new financing formula. In an ongoing Kansas Supreme Court case, the state and four districts, including Kansas City, Kan., are battling over funding issues.