February 20, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

House advances school accountability measures

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Members of the House advanced legislation late last night that creates several school accountability measures. As the clock ticked to midnight, lawmakers forwarded, 63-60, a proposal that would require school districts to create and publish accountability reports for student achievement and to certify that sufficient money has been allocated to the Instruction category of spending so that students can meet required outcomes.  

Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican, was instrumental in separating school funding proposals and policy into separate bills. She said the court is grading the legislature on how it responds to the latest Supreme Court ruling.

“Here’s the challenge the Legislature faces,” she said. “The Supreme Court said we are failing to provide one-quarter of our public school students with the basic skills of math and reading.”

Members of the Kansas House debated school accountability measures yesterday. They will address increasing school funding today.

However, she said the Kansas State Department of Education holds a different view. The department’s website says it wants to minimize emphasis on state assessment tests and focus instead on the whole child.

“So I ask, which is it? …These represent differences among our own body. If we add more money, will we increase test scores?” Williams said.

The proposal doesn’t address a court mandate that lawmakers increase funding to public schools, but the proposal instead creates school accountability policy that addresses how new funding should be used. Williams said it’s a bottom-up approach that requires school districts to put additional funding into the classroom first. Opponents argued the legislation fails to meet the Court’s requirements.

“I know I heard several times from this body that we want to get out of litigation. This isn’t going to do it,” Rep. Cindy Neighbor, a Shawnee Democrat, said. “We all know that.”

House members today will debate a proposal similar to Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to add $90 million in new funding to meet the Court’s funding mandates. The new funding would be on top of more than $500 million in extra funding lawmakers added to school funding last session.

Though the Governor and the Senate appear to agree on the $90 million increase, plaintiffs for the school districts suing the state, Schools for Fair Funding, now say they believe the state should provide schools with an additional $270 million.

SFFF’s lobbyist initially told a Senate committee that Kelly’s $90 million proposal is acceptable, but he later forwarded what he called “amended testimony” to lawmakers saying a “drafting error” in the legislation requires lawmakers add $270 million to satisfy SFFF and potentially, the Supreme Court.

“I wish we knew if we would satisfy the court or not, but I will say this bill promises something the Legislature can keep,” she said.

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