TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators who argue that Kansas parents need more education choices are pushing to allow them to move their children from the public schools they’d normally attend to others outside their local school district’s boundaries.
The GOP-controlled state Senate gave first-round approval Monday to a measure that would allow parents of K-12 students to transfer them to any other school districts with enough space to take them. Under the bill, the program would start during the 2023-24 school year.
The measure is partly a response to the closing of school buildings in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and different local school districts’ different schedules for returning to in-person classes. But conservatives have pushed for years to help parents move their children out of their local public schools — something critics see as an attempt to avoid adequately funding education.
The Senate planned to take a final vote on the bill Tuesday, and its passage was expected. The Republican-controlled House is considering a similar measure.
“Every child is different and opportunities are different from district to district,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, chair of a House committee on education spending. “We want to make sure that kids have the best opportunity to succeed.”
Senate Education Committee Chair Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, said that the bill would allow parents to transfer their children to a different district if they are getting bullied. Williams said the bill would allow parents to separate children from troublesome friend groups or if their schools are not up to par academically.
School districts would be required to accept applications from nonresident students in November. If the number of applications for a grade level exceeded openings, then the district would be required to select students with a lottery.
Opponents included the State Board of Education. It told legislators that requiring school districts to accept students during a school year would burden districts that have struggled with teacher shortages. The Olathe and Blue Valley school districts in the Kansas City area also said they are not sure they have the capacity to accept nonresident students.
Some Democrats noted that the bill doesn’t provide for transporting students, so that wealthier parents are more likely to take advantage.
“This bill creates two tiers,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat. “That’s what creates the system of elites and have-nots.”
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, argued that the measure would encourage Missouri parents to send their children to better schools in Kansas to avoid the cost of private schooling.
“This bill does not benefit students and communities with schools that are least equipped to address their needs,” Sykes said.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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