Topeka After having roughed up evolution, the 6-4 majority on the State Board of Education on Wednesday considered recommending that taxpayers pay for students to go to private schools.
The push for vouchers and more charter schools prompted heated arguments on the divided board that one day earlier had slugged it out over science standards that criticize evolution.
No action was taken Wednesday on the possible legislative measures, but the battle is expected to resume at the board's December meeting.
Education Commissioner Bob Corkins pushed for vouchers and expansion of charter schools, saying the proposals would improve the state education system through competition and by providing parents more choices on where their children could attend school.
He said a voucher program in Florida had resulted in improvements in the public school system.
More about school finance
- Webcast of live arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court (requires Windows Media Player)
- Brief of the Montoy suit (.pdf)
- Timeline of events in school finance lawsuit
- 6News video: School finance bill to face court
- Plaintiffs: School finance bill fails grade (06-13-06)
- State wants high court to dismiss school suit (06-02-06)
- Legislature approves school finance plan (05-10-06)
- Chat with Bob Corkins, Kansas Education Commissioner (02-02-06)
- House roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan (07-07-05)
- Supt. Weseman's contingency plan (07-06-05)
- More about school finance »
- Conference Committee on Senate Bill 549
- House bill info
- Senate bill info
- Kansas public schools cost study
- Kansas public schools cost study executive summary
- Public Education Finances 2004 (.pdf)
- Senate roll call on $148.4 million school finance plan
- Supreme Court's Show Cause Order (07-02-05)
- Supreme Court's Order Denying Extension (.pdf)
- Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
- Supplemental Note on Resolution No. 1603 (.pdf)
"The availability of choice increases the quality in traditional public schools," he said.
But moderate board members disapproved of Corkins' offerings, saying that school vouchers and widespread establishment of charter schools were usually tried in states with severe problems in public schools.
With statewide test results rising, and Kansas ranked high in most education rankings, board member Sue Gamble, a Shawnee Republican, asked, "What is the problem that we are trying to correct?"
For and against
Board member Bill Wagon, a Democrat from Topeka whose district includes Lawrence, said, "We don't in this state have any failed school systems."
He said the Kansas City, Kan., school district probably has the most serious socio-economic challenges, and it is meeting them head-on through the current system.
"We are seeing the most spectacular successes that are a model for the nation," he said.
But board Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said, "I don't see this as trying to destroy public education. I see this as building education."
Board member John Bacon, R-Olathe, said the more choices for parents, the better. He said some of his constituents in the Blue Valley school district were upset with the schools' required reading lists.
"If there was a choice option, maybe some of the parents might go," he said.
But Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, said she wasn't interested in providing public funds to send children to private schools because the private schools can refuse certain students, and are not required to be accredited or provide transportation.
"When we do that, I'll accept vouchers," she said.
Waugh was also critical of information Corkins brought forward on a Texas law that provides financial incentives for students to graduate from high school early to attend college.
She said Texas' public school system ranks near the bottom in most categories while Kansas' ranks in the top 10 among states. "I would prefer looking at programs in the top 10," she said.
Another concept would allow charter schools, which generally operate with more independence than standard public schools, to form without having to get local school board approval.
Board member Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, said she would like to see a charter-like entrepreneurial school that would be available online for certain high school students, who would then receive assistance to start their own businesses.
Vouchers and expansion of charter schools have been bottled up in the Legislature in recent years because of lack of support.
Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said most lawmakers weren't interested in the proposals.
"The state board has to establish why or how vouchers would help all student achievement in public schools," Schodorf said.
"I have no interest in taxpayers paying tuition at private schools. The commissioner and state board want to pay the education costs for 10 percent of the state's students in private schools, and ignore the 90 percent enrolled in public schools," she said.
What it means
¢ Students with special needs would be able to attend a school in another district or a private school, which would receive the same funding it would have cost to educate that student in the resident school district.
¢ Financial assistance would be provided for at-risk students to attend private schools. The state would pay half the statewide average state aid per pupil, or roughly $2,600 per student.
¢ An early high school graduation scholarship program is modeled after one in Texas, which provides financial assistance for students who graduate high school in less than four years. The funds must be used toward tuition at a higher education institution.
¢ The maximum assistance would be $2,000 for a student who graduates high school in three years or sooner. Another $1,000 is available if the student has already taken 15 hours of college credit while in high school.