Archive for Friday, February 6, 2004

House panel cool to dissolve Board of Education

Majority leader explains rationale for replacing elected body with Cabinet-level secretary

February 6, 2004


— A proposal to replace the State Board of Education with a secretary of education appointed by the governor drew a chilly reception Thursday in a House committee.

Testifying for the measure, which would require voter approval, House Majority Leader John Ballou said Kansas' governor should have more control over the distribution of $2.6 billion in annual state aid to school districts.

In addition, the Legislature would gain greater authority over operations of the Department of Education, Ballou said.

"I believe the interests of our diverse education population will be served well by their elected officials in the state Legislature and the statewide elected governor," Ballou, R-Gardner, told the House Education Committee.

The legislation would let voters decide in November whether to dissolve the elected, 10-member state board and replace it with a secretary of education effective July 1, 2005. The secretary would serve at the pleasure of the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

Ballou disagreed with committee members who feared an that "anti-education governor" would appoint a secretary who would harm the state's education system.

"The people of Kansas and the Legislature itself would revolt if anyone tried to dismantle the excellent education system we have," Ballou said.

Rep. Sue Storm, D-Overland Park, said Kansans were reluctant to give up their right to vote for elected office and direct say in education policy.

Ballou said he would support having an advisory board elected by voters to help the secretary set education policy, if legislators felt it would be beneficial.

However, Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita, said she opposed giving the Legislature greater authority over what was taught in classrooms.

"I have a real problem with 165 people making content decisions for the state of Kansas," she said.

But Ballou reminded the committee it was the Legislature that in 1996 established admissions standards for state universities.

Kansas had an elected superintendent of schools until the Board of Education was created in 1966. The board hires a commissioner -- currently Andy Tompkins, a former Salina superintendent -- who oversees the daily operations of the Department of Education.

Voters have rejected restructuring the board three times since then, most recently in 1990 when they defeated a proposal to abolish both the board and the Board of Regents, which governs the state university system.

Legislators discussed proposals last year to abolish the board or change its structure, such as creating an odd-numbered membership to avoid stalemates on ideological issues.

Highlights of Thursday's activities at the Kansas Legislature:¢ A proposal to replace the State Board of Education with a secretary of education appointed by the governor drew a cool reception from a House committee. See story this page.¢ A Senate panel heard mixed expressions from business groups on whether they would support Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' $304 million school finance plan.¢ A House panel reviewed a bill allowing people who sue for access to public records to receive attorneys' fees if a government agency acted in bad faith. See story this page.¢ A bill imposing a 50-cent monthly fee on wireless phones to fund improvements in county 911 systems cleared the House on an 80-40 vote and went to the Senate. See story this page.¢ Senators reviewed a bill mandating the use of a system that summons police when users of automated teller machines enter personal identification numbers backward.¢ A Senate panel heard testimony on a bill to require booster seats in motor vehicles for children 8 years old and younger who weigh less than 80 pounds.Thursday was the 25th calendar day of the session, out of 90 scheduled.

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