School financing and restructuring of oversight boards may be two key education issues facing Kansas lawmakers this spring, Rep. Ralph Tanner says.
The new chair of the House Education Committee in Kansas is vowing to run the committee fairly and openly as members consider changes in school finance and oversight-board restructuring.
"We will do it openly and with the full participation with everybody," said Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin. "That's the only way to go in my judgment."
Tanner, a member of the education committee for four years, will head the committee for the first time this year.
He played an instrumental role in the passage of qualified admissions for the state's universities a few years ago.
This year, he said, school financing may be the top issue before the committee.
Secondary schools are asking for an additional $100 in the base allocation per student from the state, Tanner said. Currently, the state provides $3,720 for each student in each district.
"For every dollar we spend in raising the rate we allocate more than half a million," Tanner said. "So for a $100 increase in that base, we will have to spend $57 million."
Tanner said that while school funding is a priority for many lawmakers, balancing those funds against spending money on other projects -- such as a new highway plan that will be considered this year -- will be tough.
"The people who are asking can justify the expense of all of this (increase in school funding)," he said.
"I'm not quarreling, but I've said, without going into pros or cons, that we will have to balance the equities of this with a new highway plan. The funding is going to be a big issue."
Another large issue facing the committee will be a proposal by the governor to restructure the state's education oversight boards.
Under the proposal, there would be a new board created for community colleges, which currently are overseen by the State Board of Education, Tanner said.
There also would be a new board created to monitor duplication.
The Kansas Board of Regents and the board of regents for Washburn University in Topeka would be unchanged under the proposal, Tanner said.
"That sounds like a little too many boards to me," he said. "But I'm reserving major comment or consideration of that issue until we (the committee) receive the governor's recommendation."
A third issue, and perhaps the most contentious, Tanner said, was a possible change in local school board control in hiring and firing of teachers.
"Right now, the boards generally call in some sort of fact-finder ... and the resolution is generally in the hands of one person," he said.
"A lot of school administrators fear trying to go the dismissal route for the teacher because they say they don't have time to do the documentation. It's fairly clear they do have to build a case."
Tanner said that issue came up at five recent public forums around the state, during which several members of the House Education Committee heard from teachers, administrators and students.
"We didn't promise them yes or no ... and we'll go back and use their comments to help us ... set up a set of goals for the education committee," he said. "With those goals in hand, we can probably accomplish a lot more than if we started off like we sometimes do -- with a `let's open the door and see what happens' approach."
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